The real Stephie Key: 'I don't strut around with Big Macs for a bra on a daily basis'

By Jane Phare

Stephie Key is the Prime Minister’s ‘super-shy’ daughter but, through her provocative art — and alter ego Cherry Lazar — she is forging her own identity. She talks to Jane Phare.
Stephie Key says she's nothing like her alter ego, Cherry Lazar. Photo / Supplied
Stephie Key says she's nothing like her alter ego, Cherry Lazar. Photo / Supplied

Whoops! Stephie Key or, rather, Cherry Lazar, now knows she's allergic to octopus ink.

It was during one of her solo photo shoots, in which she lay spread-eagled, her naked body strategically covered with small pieces of sushi, flowers and with a large octopus covering her groin, its slippery tentacles wrapped round her thighs, that she made the discovery.

"I had an allergic reaction to the ink. The fisherman I brought it off offered to cut the ink sac out but like a total idiot I thought it would look cooler in the photo.

"Thankfully I had three pairs of underwear on and a good stuffing of toilet paper so it didn't get the uh... precious bits."

The image was part of a retrospective exhibition of Key's work in the chic Galerie Garby's, in fashionable St Germain, which has just ended. The gallery invited Key, 22, to put on her second show, this time in collaboration with Belgian artist Damien Paul-Gal.

So many people attended that the police showed up because the overflow had blocked the road outside, Key says.

If the gendarmes had glanced through Galerie Garby's large street windows they would have got an eyeful of the Prime Minister's daughter in various states of undress, including one - Key describes it as "quite fetching" - in which she has a tampon stuck up her nose, a theme that crops up in earlier work where she is dancing with tampons. In another, this time with a McDonald's theme, her breasts are covered, barely, with mini hamburgers and a large-fries-with-that propped in front of her groin.

The images are light years away from the sweet, blonde-haired girl, loyally wearing blue, who stood on stage next to her parents, smiling at jubilant National supporters after yet another triumphant election.

Now she creates art, mostly in her own image, mostly wearing wigs, heaps of makeup and not much in the way of a costume.

She's exposed her front view, her back view and the bits in between, in the name of art.

In the words of a mate on her Instagram page: "The man who runs our country also raised this girl. May God have mercy."

Key has said before that although she's aware her parents, John and Bronagh, though fully supportive of her work, would prefer she not photograph herself dressed - or undressed - as a slutty bride, she has to do her own thing.

So how much of the raunchy images is that girl on the stage all grown up and how much is Cherry Lazar, Key's sexualised alter ego?

"Obviously I am similar to her, otherwise she wouldn't exist. She's a part of me," Key said yesterday.

"But I don't strut around with Big Macs for a bra on a daily basis. I'm actually quite shy, super-private and prefer to keep to myself."

Cherry's life and body were out there for all to see, she said, whereas hers was more ordinary - going to the supermarket and taking the subway.

"She probably glides around in a swan-drawn boat on a river of love. I suppose I'm rather eccentric myself but, to be honest, the fact that we both have pink hair and an affinity for sparkly things is probably our only similar trait."

Though Cherry Lazar might sound like the stage name of a stripper in a sleazy nightclub, it in fact harks from Key's two grandmothers' maiden names, Cherry and Lazar.

Perfect, thought Key as she arrived in France as a 17-year-old to finish her education near the Geneva border.

A new name and a new country to replace the Kiwi "first daughter".

Lazar allows Key to express herself and her sexuality - at a distance. She's aware her images might shock people and that some might see her work as, once again, stereotyping women - she's posed as a sexy nurse, a dominatrix and a luscious semi-naked Hawaiian babe.

"However, without taking a stereotype for ourselves and reclaiming it, we can never overcome it," she said. "A woman's awareness of her sexuality is something that terrifies so many people but I think embracing our bodies and our ownership of them is a necessary step for our progression.

"It doesn't mean that every girl should go and photograph herself in the buff. Do what's comfortable for you, but I think people need to stop telling women who choose to express themselves as sexual beings [they are] women with low or negative personal value.

"Perhaps what I am doing is very shocking to some right now, but I think the message of ladies like Miley Cyrus, for example, will eventually be a super-important movement in women's history."

And there's no shortage of ideas for Cherry Lazar's next appearances, says Key.

"I'm constantly stimulated, watching films, reading books, going to galleries, and meeting people from all over the world. I always carry a notebook with me to write random things down."

The Key family, Max, Bronagh, Stephie and John, celebrate National's victory in 2008.
The Key family, Max, Bronagh, Stephie and John, celebrate National's victory in 2008.

Producing the ideas as actual art can be a problem, Key says - "not having the funds to make something as I see fit, or not yet having the technical ability to actually pull something off".

She works alone - drawing how the photo will look, altering or making wigs and costumes, building the set and arranging the photoshoot.

"If you haven't noticed by now, I'm a total control freak."

Key photographs herself using a hidden remote control to set off a camera on a tripod - and she's become adept at hiding the remote.

"If people can't tell which images are self-portraits and which are my photos of others, just look for one hidden hand. If it's me, one or both of my hands won't be shown because it's holding the remote. A shoot generally takes me an hour, I get bored fast, so I work quickly."

This month's invitation to exhibit has been a boost for Key, who'll graduate later this year from the exclusive Paris College of Art and says all her work is for sale.

She has two more shows booked - in Paris in May, and Milan later in the year.

"Paris is such an amazing place to study art. I will never forget on my first day at uni I was taking an art theory class and the professor was discussing gothic architecture. So rather than showing a slide show she was like 'ok c'mon guys one of the best examples in the world is just up the road, let's go'.

"So we all filed out of the classroom and wound up outside Notre Dame cathedral. I was just standing there thinking this is completely insane."

Her dream, she says, is to work in cinema. "I would love to be a film director so I'm constantly writing film scripts. They aren't very good but I'm getting better. Hopefully one day I'll get to make them all.

"Last year I made my first 30 minute-long film, called Friedrich's Party, about some widowed vampire wives planning their dead husbands' death day party. Making movies is so much fun."

To that end, Key spends much of her spare time watching movies, declaring herself a "film nerd"; going to the gym; and reading "lots and lots of books".

Apart from that she's teaching herself to cook meals "other than pasta and variations on the omelette, which is proving interesting. A couple of my friends have been brave enough to taste my experiments."

- NZ Herald

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