Cali Banks

Updated: Apr 16, 2020


I believe photography and videography capture the "truest" form of the body, or the "raw" form.


Born in Syracuse, New York, Banks is an interdisciplinary artist who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art and Technology and Global Health Studies from Allegheny College. She is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Media Arts Practices at the University of Colorado Boulder. In recent times, she has exhibited work at Araguato - Festival de Arte Sonoro y Música Experimental de Villavicencio, in Villavicencio, Colombia, PhotoNOLA, and Georgia Art Space in Denver, Colorado. She is also a featured artist in Issue # 24 and Issue #26 of The Hand Magazine, and has been published on


Cali M. Banks explores the complexities of the female body and experience through photography, videography, performance, and new media. Working within the realm of public versus private narratives, these ideas stem into personal narratives related to identity and discourses on femininity, which can then be adapted by a larger audience. Banks also disrupts, distresses, or alters the processes she is using. She does this manually in digital, as well as analog, processes throughout the progress of her works. Being interested in creating intimate experiences, Banks creates immersive multimedia installations, photographic prints, performances, and standing objects.

Banks’ approach to her studio practice is not limited to one theme or medium of work. Banks believes that having only one direction to one’s work does not allow for personal growth as an artist. But, creating a narrative is the most important aspect of her work. When she is thinking of what to create time after time, Banks steps back and look at what is happening in her life, or what has happened, and try to situate it into contemporary or historical society. While creating these narratives, Banks engages with the idea of the “public” versus the “private.” This can be seen in how she decides to display her work, or the themes behind her work. The themes behind Banks’ art relate to femininity, performing gender in relation to the male gaze, history of her family, and social, political, and psychological aspects of being a womxn in today’s society. These themes are presented in the mediums of photography, performance, moving image, and sculpture.

Ask the Body I - archival print - 2020

Can you tell us about your creation and manipulation of photographic images?

I feel that the image or final product is not necessarily "mine" unless I manipulate it in some way, usually by hand. I have sewn into images, moved objects around on a flatbed scanner, burned images. Anything to push it beyond a flat, 2-D rectangle. When the emulsion is burned, or there is a second layer of material on top of the image, it creates a more sculptural approach to the medium. In the sense of videos, I create immersive installations, and that is how I feel I am manipulating those images. Due to being confined in my home because of COVID-19, it is more challenging to manipulate images by hand, due to not having access to any sort of printer. So, I am figuring out ways to create objects that aid in a performance that will be filmed, so I can incorporate all aspects into one. No matter what I create, all of my work starts out with an image in some way.

Bon Appetit - image transfer on ceramic plate - 2019

Can you elaborate on the relationship between bodies and digital media within your work?

That is something I am constantly exploring. I believe photography and videography capture the "truest" form of the body, or the "raw" form. I'm not sculpting a body out of clay, or drawing my body from memory. The camera is able to take an image of my body in whatever state it's in at that moment. I find that interesting as the body can change even from the morning into the evening, based on your emotional of physical health, age, etcetera. Yes, photos can be edited, but I am taking a more documentary approach to how my own body is situated in society.

Dirty Laundry Pt. 2 - cyanotype with microfiche text - 2018

In what ways does the inclusion of text augment our understanding of images in Dirty Laundry Pt. 2?

I had access to microfiche from the New York Times during the 1970s through the Law Library at the University of Colorado Boulder. After scanning the microfiche, I clipped sentences from advertisements, usually about cars or something deemed "masculine". I then collaged the sentences to make witty phrases regarding women. The underlying images are cyanotypes of my own lingerie. When creating this work, I was questioning the ideas behind lingerie. Why do womxn usually wear lingerie? If an individual is interacting with marketing materials for lingerie, who is it really appealing to, the male who gets to remove the items, or the women who wear it? I relate these questions to performing gender and heteronormativity. As a cisgender, heterosexual woman, I fall under the marketing ideals of a “woman as a fantasy” for a man, but what about the LGBTQ+ community? In that case, my cyanotypes are perpetuating these themes of play and fantasy, but there is no body or gaze present, so any individual could relate. Once I overlay the text from the microfiche, a conversation arises about bodily autonomy and how society may, or may not, view womxn and their bodies.

Reclamation - projected video installation - 2020

Reclamation - video still - 2020

Tell us more about your challenging/confronting/subverting the politics of the human body, particularly the female body.

I feel that I can only challenge/confront/subvert the politics of the female body, as that is what I know. I only know what it's like to be a cisgender, heterosexual woman, so I feel that I only have the authority to speak, or make work, on that. What I am working on and thinking about most lately is the reclamation of the female body. I am doing that mostly nude. A nude womxn herself could be deemed "taboo", but what if the intention is subverted? Are our bodies a residue of humanity, or are we in a time where we can reclaim our bodies as ours/reassert our rights? I think about that question a lot when I think about creating work.

If my work contains a body, it is always nude. Clothing adds a layer of context that I may not want, and individuals may focus on what they are wearing instead of the idea I am expressing. Nudity alone confronts the politics of the female body. Womxn should only be nude in private! - some may think. But the nudity seen in my work isn't always sexualized. Sometimes bodies in my work appear nude to depict the rawness of psychological health. That is another way I confront body politics. Mental health can still somewhat be taboo or uncomfortable to talk about. It's taken me a while to be able to talk about my own issues publicly, but it's also therapeutic, especially during current times.

The Ocean Within - projected video installation - 2019/20

Your statement highlights your interest in creating both intimate and immersive aesthetic experiences for viewers. How do you arrive at decisions regarding appropriate levels of intimacy or immersion for a given work?

I always give a couple options to viewers on the level of immersion they want to experience. For example, my work The Ocean Within gives the audience the choice to enter into a tiny triangular space that contains projections of my own internal and external pelvic ultrasound. So they are in fact, inside of my womb. That freaks some people out. Some people just don't want to be in a tiny space - as I created it to be claustrophobic. If they don't want to enter inside, there are pillows and blankets lining the space, so the audience can still see the projections from the outside of the triangular sculpture, while also being able to hear the sound. I like the idea of pushing the immersion as far as it can go, but having theoretical steps back for comfortability of the viewer. It all circles back to consent for me. I personally don't enjoy forced participation in art if I don't know the full extent of it up front, and I wouldn't want to put someone else in that position either.

Currently I am working on a 5-channel immersive installation about the reclamation of the female body through ritualistic performance. Before the spread of COVID-19, it was supposed to project on all four walls and the ceiling inside of a DIY space in Denver, Colorado. The installation included video performance, sound, and scent. The door would've been closed, and the audience would have had the opportunity to stay or leave as they please, as everything was on a continuous loop. Some people may not like the scent of absolute rose, or large, "in-your-face" projections of my nude body - and that's fine- but they always had the option to leave. Again, all about consent.