For artist and painter Illma Gore, the human body is the ultimate work of art.
The young artist also believes art is supposed to evoke emotion — and her most famous piece has certainly achieved her goal. When Gore published the now infamous nude painting of Donald Trump with a fictional micro-penis on Facebook, she could never have predicted what was to come. Since February, she has found herself in the crosshairs of the Trump campaign’s hate machine; she has faced death and rape threats, lawsuits, and most recently, was punched in the face on the street.
Within 24 hours of publishing, Gore’s disturbing depiction of Trump made the front page of Reddit and was banned from Facebook. A few days later, the painting had been viewed over 50 million times, and she was swiftly hit with a takedown notice, which was filed by a third party on Facebook who alleged she had violated their copyright.
But sadly, Gore’s problems didn’t end with copyright allegations. For three months, the painter has been the target of death and rape threats, as well as anonymous phone calls demanding she remove the image or go to court. Most recently, while she was out walking in Los Angeles last week, a car pulled up beside her and a young man got out and punched her in the face. Cheered on by others in the car, he yelled: “TRUMP 2016!”
“When I started painting in January, I felt that if anyone would be threatened by a fictional small penis it’s Trump. But I didn’t anticipate that he would turn his dislike into such a personal affront, even going so far as to defend his penis sizeduring the Republican debate on 4 March,” Gore wrote in the Guardian.
The body Gore painted is actually that of one of her friends. By depicting his body with Trump’s face, the artist wanted to raise questions about gender: “If I painted Trump with a massive penis, why would we then take it as a signal that he is powerful? Why would a small penis be viewed as effeminate? And what is wrong with effeminacy to begin with?” she wrote.
Faced with the copyright filing, Gore had two options: to either delete her Facebook page, where the work was originally posted, or to counter the threat. For her, it wasn’t a choice; she knew she had done nothing wrong and had not violated anyone’s copyright, as the work was her own. In order to counter the complaint, she was required to provide Facebook and the anonymous third party with her personal details, including her address.
“This made me nervous,” Gore wrote. “Especially since I was already getting a barrage of death threats. I requested Facebook tell me who the complainant was – Facebook policy stated it will provide it in such cases. I also didn’t take the painting down.”
Shortly after the complaint was filed, she received a phone call from someone claiming to be from Trump’s legal team. They demanded she take the image down or face legal ramifications, but despite her request for a hard copy of the complaint, she never received it.
In defiance — and resisting those attempting to stomp on her freedom of expression — Gore uploaded the artwork her personal website for anyone to download.
Today, the original nude image of Trump remains in London’s Maddox Gallery, priced at £1m ($1.44m). If it sells, Gore intends to donate a portion of the amount raised to a homeless shelter for youth in Los Angeles. According to the artist, the announcement of the price led to another call from the alleged Trump team. They claimed if she sells the painting, she will be liable for a right of publicity lawsuit for using the face of the Republican frontrunner for profit. Again, the paperwork to back up the threat has never arrived.
For Gore, the recent violent attack by Trump supporters, which left her with severe facial bruising, is indicative of the election — and how the Republican is inciting violence while exposing deep divides in American society.