Ali Rake’s work is a fever dream of nostalgic glittery saturated pastels, sex doll subreddits, Catholic iconography, and unicorns. I came across her work at Park Mart when I was visiting my friend Melanie (aka Meadowland). I was entranced by how her art manages to be sleazy yet delicate, soft with jagged edges, a biting satire of the objectification that comes with femininity but also a celebration of the feminine divine.
At the heart of her oeuvre is the idea of fantasy, and a deep meditation on how fantastical conceptions of femininity have led to suffering, but these fantasies are also, in and of themselves, a testament to the power of the female form. The moniker “eventyrverden” means fairytaleworld in Danish– and her art is almost fable-like– the characters range from voluptuous centaurs to Botox-injected toys. But each faces trials and tribulations perennial to womanhood itself.
Playing with archetypes, Ali’s work seems to argue that the whore and the virgin both deserve to be elevated to sainthood. Modern plasticized feminine ideals are treated with the same value as the classic beauty standards of old. Unicorns represent womanhood itself as well as the misogyny sadly intrinsic to the female experience – something to be conquered, something to be commemorated, something to be reconciled with– sometimes simultaneously.
All that said, the conversation below is less about high-falutin feminist philosophies and more about the surprisingly broad market for Reddit-related items, the shockingly detailed lives of sex dolls on Instagram, and the unrecognized ingenuity of the furry community. Ali was truly a delight to talk to, and her undiscriminating approach to art-making really shines through.
How did you become interested in pursuing a career in art?
In first grade we had to do a presentation on a famous historical figure. I chose Frida Kahlo, and I just remember being really obsessed with her life story. Later my family visited Chicago and I saw some of her work at a museum there. Art became my thing after that. I remember feeling like that was one thing I was really confident in my ability to do, to draw and stuff. I just kind of stuck with it.
Besides Frida Kahlo, who are your biggest inspirations?
I really like medieval art, like Hieronymus Bosch. I also really like the weird depths of chat boards on Reddit. There’s a lot of cool photography there. I’m really obsessed with the sex doll subreddit. I also like Catholic iconography. My family’s not Catholic but I went to an all girls Catholic school for most of my life. My grandpa is super Catholic but also really into tarot. He was really creative. I really like the artist Will Sheldon. He does tattoos and these crazy drawings.
Why did you go to Catholic school if your family isn’t Catholic?
The school I had previously gone to shut down during the recession. Public school wasn’t working for me. I needed extra help because I have a lot of learning disabilities. The smaller class sizes and having extra help was really nice. The school I went to before was like this weird, hole-in-the-wall school that had like seven people. It wasn’t religious, but when they closed, everyone just kind of transferred to the Catholic school that I went to. It was co-ed through sixth grade and then became all-girls. There was an all-boys military school next door. It was very intense. I don’t think I fully knew what I was getting myself into. But I transferred in the middle of the year, and it was so much bigger than my other school. Anything bigger just felt better. I ended up staying there until I graduated. We all wore long white wedding dresses to graduation. It was so weird.
Is wearing long white dresses a thing at a lot of Catholic school graduations?
Most of my friends went to the public school, and a lot of people wore white dresses there too, but like under their gowns. We didn’t have gowns either. We had roses, and we like threw roses. And the military school graduates got cigars. It’s so weird. They were separate graduations. Totally separate schools.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve made so far?
Anything that I’ve framed. I’ve been really into those white frames. Anything that’s more involved I equate with being higher valued, even if I get feedback from professors saying the work I finished quickly is more successful. I’ve been doing all these drawings of unicorns for my thesis, to draw on Catholic iconography, and also tying them to the movie Mother. There’s a lot of Christian allegory in that movie too. So, in my work, the unicorn is like a figure representative of Mary and Jesus. I’m also inspired by the unicorn tapestries at the Met, and The Last Unicorn. Since I spent a lot of time and research on those drawings, they hold a pretty high value to me. I feel like people don’t know the symbolism that unicorns have. I also think a lot about fairytales.
Do you have a favorite fairytale?
I don’t know if this counts as a fairytale, but I’m obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. I feel like it’s later than the original fairytales, but I love it.
I know you sell your work at pop-ups and stuff. What’s the best interaction you’ve had with a customer?
Everyone is always so nice and at those pop-ups, they’re always so eager to share their work and really excited about other people’s work. That’s been super fun. There’s a lot of gatekeeping in the art world, but I don’t feel that at all at those markets. The people who bought stuff from me are always so eager to put me on to new mediums and co-ops. I really appreciate everyone who finds value in my stuff. Last time, at Park Mart, they had a Red Bull cybertruck thing that popped up and added a lot to the vibe. I really like when older people like my work. I did a collaboration with 25FNYC, they make like bikinis and like swimsuits but they’re not meant for swimming, they’re meant for dancers or something. The person who does fillers for all the people in 90 Day Fiance reposted one of our works. That’s like such deep lore, that I knew who she was. So that was cool. It’s really interesting to see the people who want Reddit-themed stuff. I think that’s really funny.
What kinds of people want Reddit-themed stuff?
Like everyone! I feel like everyone has this idea of what Reddit is. I feel like a lot of really girly, hyper-feminine people are into the Reddit stuff and I think that’s a cool contrast.
What do you see as the main themes in your work?
I think the idea of fantasy activators is a big one. Fantasy activators in terms of the feminine experience, in the context of fairytales and the internet, but also in the context of sexuality. Like, sex dolls as fantasy activators. I’ve been thinking a lot about this in conjunction with religious iconography and the idea of suffering. I think of feminine people as fantasy activators, but also, the negative connotation that comes with that, of being objectified. I’m really obsessed with Instagram accounts people have dedicated to sex dolls, and giving them a personality and creating this narrative for their doll even though it’s an inanimate object.
I didn’t even know those accounts existed!
Yeah they’re crazy, and they’re all like connected to each other. On the sex doll subreddit, they’ll post super-detailed, very in-depth stories about their dolls. Like they’re practically writing novels. There’s this whole community surrounding them. It’s bizarre. A lot of the best sellers are based off of animal figures. There’s one based off of Lola Bunny.
Is there much of a crossover between the furry community and this community?
I think so. I have like an unpopular opinion on furries. I feel like they’re kind of cool. It’s so interesting.
Everyone hates on them so much. I knew a couple furries in high school and they were perfectly nice people. My friends always joke that I’m a furry because I like the play AND the movie Cats, but I don’t think that makes me a furry.
Is the movie good?
It’s so bad.
But is it like so bad it’s good?
Yeah exactly. I’m kind of with you on the furries. Maybe they get too much hate.
They’re so impressive! They’re so resourceful.
They spend so much money on it too.
Yeah it’s crazy.
It’s so funny you brought up the sex dolls too, because I’m working on a new series of publications about uncanny life and the importance we attach to uncanny objects. Maybe I’ll do an issue on that sometime.
Yeah there’s so many. I can share some links with you. There’s a ton of forums. There’s this image that I found on a 4chan archive page, which is its own can of worms. But I’ve printed it on some stuff. Someone was trying to show the size of their assault rifles in comparison with their sex doll, and the doll is dressed up as Alice in Wonderland.
So when people are fleshing out these dolls’ lives, it goes beyond sexual fantasies right?
Oh yeah. There’s this one guy I follow who is really into Insane Clown Posse. He’s always posting his doll and talking about how she loves Insane Clown Posse. It’s so funny. But it’s really cool. He’ll bring her out and to restaurants and things, and push her around in a wheelchair. I found this guy, his name is like angeldollphotography, and he’s done collaborations with Ashley Williams. I’ve interacted with him on Instagram. He’s like so normal and so respectful, but he has tens of thousands of dollars worth of these dolls. And he supports so many women artists. I’m from Minnesota and he’s roommates with the former Miss Minnesota. He’ll sometimes DM me about how the Vikings are doing.
What would you change about the New York art scene?
To be honest, I don’t think I’m very involved in the art scene. There’s always this idealized version of life on social media, but really I don’t go out very much. Sometimes I feel like people are gatekeeping, and they’re very territorial about their work. Which is valid if you feel like someone is ripping off your work, but I also feel like there’s very similar things going on all at once. I kind of wish there was more space and that it was cheaper to do things. I wish Washington Square wasn’t so pressed about selling clothes in the park. There’s so many people that I’ve known that are really making moves it seems like, and then you realize that they have a parent or someone close to them that paved their way for them. I guess you can’t help that, but it’s something to keep in mind. At first I was super envious of people like that, but I took a step back to really understand that they had a leg up.
What do your parents do?
They’re both doctors. They’re surgeons. I’m really inspired by medical things and surgical things and anatomy. I definitely have advantages too, given my parents’ careers, and I don’t take that for granted.