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A Conversation with Dana Hoey

episode 31
Jan 5 2022

Dana Hoey, a San Fransisco born artist and photographer based in upstate New York, talks about her photography and video work which investigates gender roles, archetypes, aggression and power in society.

About our guest

Dana Hoey is an American artist and photographer born in San Francisco and based in upstate New York. Dana received a BFA in philosophy from Wesleyan University, and an MFA in photography from the Yale School of Art. She exhibited at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC Albany University Museum of Art, the Center for Arts Design and visual culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroits. Her work investigates discordance, discomfort, aggression, society, and power, and how those relate to the identity of women through photographs and video, she blurs the lines between facts and fiction and investigates the role of women in society. She brings art and the concept of social engagements together through boxing that she uses in her installations, performances, and she brings self defense class in the art spaces. She is represented by Petzel Gallery in New York City.


Dana Hoey’s website
Gallery Analix Forever
Gallery Petzel

“Being an artist represents a lot of freedom, because you can take whatever you’re interested in and put it in a container of art”

Elenor 3, archival inkjet, 2019

"Five Rings"
Detroit MOCAD Self Defense Class documentation, 2017

Photo credit: Pari Aryfar

Trunk Lab, 2002
Cibachrome print,
49" x 61"

Cela Landing Face Punch, "Dana Hoey Presents", Petzel, NYC, Fight Night documentation by Pari Aryfar, 2019

Main Event Clinch, "Dana Hoey Presents", Petzel, NYC, Fight Night documentation by Pari Aryfar, 2019

Erika Hirano Landing Face Punch on Chloe Fan, "Dana Hoey Presents", Petzel, NYC, Fight Night documentation by Pari Aryfar, 2019

“So I wrestle with the privilege of exhibiting masculine traits myself, but not really getting into trouble for it”

Faye Silver, Archival inkjet, 2016,

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For the last episode of the season we welcome Dana Hoey, an American artist that captures videos and photographs, and blends fact and fiction to question society’s preconceived ideas of gender, relations between each other, masculinity and femininity. Avid in her practice of combat sports, she integrates that into her work as well and uses it in the directions she gives her models.

She also talks to us about her thoughts on being a woman in the arts as well as her philosophy on motherhood and how it impacted her career.

Conversation Highlights:

  • The use of combat sports in her work

  • Exploring gender roles and identity

  • In for freedom and being a woman/mother in the art world

The use of combat sports in her work

The catalyst for Dana’s interest in investigating women and social roles was moving to New York City: “I grew up in the country,” she explains. “And when I moved to New York City, I found there were amazingly complex social codes that I wasn’t necessarily understanding.”

She started “visualiz[ing] what it would be like if the social codes were a bit simpler and more direct.” This leads Dana to telling us about how she directed women to “wrestle around and fight with each other” before photographing them “so that they had glowing out of their eyes, the aftermath of having had a direct exchange, a direct physical exchange.” This sprung from Dana’s observation of white women in America to be indirect in their conflicts.

Dana’s last New York City show presented a “lady’s Muay Thai fight night” in the center of Chelsea Gallery. She uses combat sport as a social experiment, combining the fight crowd and the art crowd which are ‘very different’. She looks at combat sports as a beautiful thing beyond its aggressive aspect. She wanted to “present this paradigm of powerful, skillful, artful women” in a gallery which triggered an “incredible amount of excitement":

“It was different social classes, different ethnicities, everybody was together, looking at art books together [...], screaming at the fights together and just generally having this visceral sensory experience together,” she says. “And that's what I found most exciting about it. Was that kind of collapse of social class and ethnicity.”

This “collapse between the genders” and creation of sensory experiences is what makes combat sports particularly interesting to integrate in her art.

Exploring gender roles and identity

Dana tells us about her Amish video made during the lockdown that questions physical labor in gender roles. “The video was set up to be a narrative about who does more work,” she says. “It was about who is going to carry more wood and who carries wood better and who looks right doing the work and who looks wrong doing the work. So we alternated between the boy and the girl carrying the wood.”

They were set to look very puritan for the questions Dana wanted to raise: “If you do the labor as you’re supposed to, does that make you a puritan? Or if you don’t do the labor, does that make you a whore?”

She uses fiction in her work to “elicit real emotions”, as a way to portray the “grain of truth” that she finds on her subjective point of view and observations about the topics she brings forth.

Dana also gives us her thoughts on archetypes and how this relates to some of her work including her photography series of women running meth labs, her series ‘Eleonor’, a photo of a disabled girl wearing a helmet, commented by the gallerist in Geneva, Barbara Pola for her sharp use of the negative.

‘Eleonor’ is a real person that she encountered practicing Muay Thai. Pictures of Eleonor portray the elegance and harshness of her persona, again triggering questions on gender identity.

She gives us more examples, including one of a picture called “trunk lab” where we see a trunk with a portable meth lab. With a sense of humour, she takes the fact that more than half of meth labs were run by ‘sort of stay at home moms’, and turns it into a series. This slams the archetype of the ‘good mother’, as Dana finds archetypes quite ‘silly’.

She explores masculinity in her work and shares her opinions on the idea of the performative in relation to gender identity and how it differs between men and women wanting to perform differently than their biological gender:

“For me, as a woman becoming more of a tomboy is no big deal. I think for a cisgender man to become feminine is a very big deal. They take a lot of trouble. So I wrestle with the privilege of exhibiting masculine traits myself, but not really getting into trouble for it.”

In for freedom and being a woman/mother in the art world

Dana’s work is about freedom. And that’s what we get into when we near the end of our conversation. Being cautious about the word, Dana says:  “in terms of artistic liberty in freedom, I’m on there for it”, caring very much “about the idea of unfettered life, particularly for women.”

She mentions Eleonor again and her interest in her being “an example of a younger person who experiences more and more freedom.”

She also says that “being an artist represents a lot of freedom, because you can take whatever you’re interested in and put it in a container of art.” And that this freedom is what allows her to mix and mash combat sports and gender in her photography.

We also talk about the freedom of performing the gender of your preference, and how there are varying degrees to this.

On top of being an artist, Dana is also a mother, which brings us to her thoughts on the matter and how this affected her work. Not having expected to become one but it didn’t stop her from creating her art. Being a mother has become an inspiration, over a burden or blockage: “I mean, the real facts are that it limits your time. But for me, photography doesn’t require seven days a week [...] so I think it’s a little bit easier for me.”

The only thing she is “grumpy” about in being a woman in the art world is “the dollar differences between male and female prices.” She doesn’t mind that younger artists get more attention, and she’s happy about the valuable colleagues and friends she’s made along the way. “I think it’s very special,” she says. “It’s very special and at times it pays less well, but that’s okay.”

If all these topics speak to you and you need a power boost of inspiration, tune into this episode, or check the transcript you can find here ︎︎︎ [transcript]



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Lyz Parayzo
Non-binary artist and performer