Below is a narrative biography of Schrager’s art practice as well as references to artworks that are viewable upon request.
Schrager grew up in a small northwestern US town where she took up dance and theater. She continued studying dance at the University of Washington and performed in works by Martha Graham, Jose Limon, Zvi Gotheiner, amongst others. She then moved to NYC where danced in downtown and uptown productions, choreographed for theater, and performed in others’ performance art works.
Her explorations of performance art and choreography led her to photography and poetry as she found the vocabulary of dance to be limiting. She soon started making “phoems” (photo-poems) and had her first art show at The Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle in 2010.
As she started using her dance and modeling images in her art, she found herself in the odd situation of not owning those images and usually could not acquire full resolution versions from the photographers. Inherent in the default photographer/model TFP (time for print) contract is the fact that the photographer (usually a man) owns all images from a shoot with the model (usually a woman). This discovery initiated her dissatisfaction with being a performer in others’ works or a model for other photographers. This dissatisfaction led to “My Modeling Portfolio” (2012), Schrager’s attempt to own her image as a female model, wherein she took her entire modeling portfolio (shot from 2002-2012) and created “derivative” works that she could “own.”
In 2010 Schrager founded Naked Therapy under the heteronym Sarah White. Her experience as The Naked Therapist has heavily informed her art practice. In 2011, Naked Therapy unexpectedly went viral and was covered in the NY Daily, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, CBS, NBC, Fox News, The Huffington Post, and many more news outlets. In 2012 she submitted artwork to the Chelsea West Artists Open Studios as Sarah White – The Naked Therapist. She was at first accepted, but after submitting her profile image, she was blackballed from the festival said that her image was an “ad” and not “art” and that she was a “commercial entity” and not an “artist.” This event opened her eyes to the prejudice in the art world against women who use the provocative (and potentially commercial) body performatively and pushed Schrager to return to school to get her MFA in Fine Art in 2013. More can be read about the blackballing here.
“The Google Project” began as an artistic interaction and documentation of the “web” and “image” results from Googling “Leah Schrager” in response to her online micro-celebrity and as an attempt to retain anonymity. “Part I (Removal)” 2010-2012 involved removing images of herself from Google search results, then reconstructing her face in photographs, and finally saying goodbye to her family via video. However, in an act of Revenge Tagging in 2013, a Youtube commenter “DirtyLove4812” linked Sarah White and Schrager, which quickly made it to the top page of Schrager’s search results. This led her to move on to “Part II (Multiplication)” with the goal of dissembling her identity through posting false information and problematizing the true material and thematic nature of her art. Finally, during “Part III (Conflation)” 2014 she developed a group of Onas (online personas) and discussed them theoretically as a generation of people. She also documented other artists whose Google searches conjured up multiple people and/or very different aesthetics.
During this time she was also pursuing her MFA in Fine Art at Parsons. She explored her online work as a series of “Ona” manifestations. Each Ona had a website, unique photos, art, and interactions. They included an escart (“escort as art object”), a financial dominatrix, stock image women, etc. They were intended to explore and conflate the line between art object and female body, art audience and populist audience, and to see how a woman is judged/perceived according to how naked or explicit she is in the public sphere.
Throughout this phase Schrager continued her visual art practice as viewable in the main menu items above. As her various pursuits enabled more modeling opportunities, she continued shooting for trade with photographers. This ended with a fallout with a photographer who, though he wanted her to “go further” in their photo shoots, still refused to give her any right to the images. She then worked only with photographers who would sign a co-copyright agreement and later only those who would give her full ownership. Now, her current images are either selfies or taken by assistants. This means she now has ownership-level access to the images of herself and a complete library of full resolution images to use as raw material for her projects. Some of the things photographers said to her as she sought to own her image have been canonized into some of her memes:
She is a proponent of considering the artistic value and merit of selfies, emphasizing the fact that selfies provide the model full legal and economic control over her images. While some (in and out of the art world) consider selfies vapid narcissism, Schrager believes (as she said in her curatorial statement for Body Anxiety), “it’s important for us to start considering selfies an advanced and florid kind of self-portraiture. People are exploring themselves and owning their explorations, which should be supported as an alternative to “man hands” (men selling women’s images as art).” Body Anxiety was featured in April 2015 Artforum in an article called “Women on the Verge.”
Although the free or public version of her works contain no nudity and follow social networking rules (are SFSM, or “safe for social media”), she has been kicked off numerous social media and institutional platforms. This website itself is flagged as adult material in many countries and cannot be viewed on Jet Blue airplanes via FlyFi. She continues to document and explore this murky state of censorship. She is curious as to when the conflation or confusion of “I know porn when I see it” and “I know art when I see it” slides into the censoring of provocative female bodies.
From 2015 on she has focused on her visual artwork and her celebrity-as-art-practice project, ONA. ONA is the attempt to achieve everything she’s been working on through various personas in one personality. Due to her provocative performances, her admitted engagement in sex work, and her unique status as an artist with a pro-sex approach, she has faced slut-shaming from family, friends, and colleagues. These experiences often inform her conceptual approaches and are being utilized as raw material for her recent paintings.