New York City

Brooklyn Artist's Intricate Milk-Carton Dress Sculptures Dazzle

A New York City-based artist has been creating lavish costumes out of discarded milk cartons, captivating spectators and local schoolchildren with their incredible design and detail.

Ventiko, the creator of the milk carton dresses and accompanying performance artist collective, Sylva Dean and Me, says she began tinkering with the cartons when her mother developed breast cancer in 2010. A photography artist up until that point, Ventiko says she became incapable of creating photographs, and daily functioning became difficult.

Sylva Dean and Me in the City
Ventiko/Sylva Dean and Me
Sylva Dean and Me in the city

She started collecting milk cartons from the nursery school around the corner from her Bushwick home, taking them home to wash, dry, drill and experiment, she told News 4 in an email. She created her first wearable sculpture using staples, each closed by hand -- and it would up falling apart on the first trip out of the house. That's when she took to sewing the cartons.

"It was more often than not disgusting," Ventiko said of working with used milk cartons, but it provided a "great distraction" from her mother's chemotherapy. She first showed the milk-carton dress in 2011, and has been showing them in art galleries, shows and even in schools since then -- including Bushwick United Nursery School, where she'd been picking up the milk cartons.  

The Gaurdians of Sylva Dean and Me at The Far Rockaway Kids Carnival after Sandy November 2012
Ventiko/Sylva Dean and Me
Sylva Dean and Me at the Far Rockaway Kids Carnival after Sandy in November 2012

The owner of a dairy farm on Long Island was delighted to learn his own milk cartons were being used for the pieces. Anthony J. Silvio of Rollin Dairy, based in Islandia, supplies the milk to Bushwick United Nursery; he called the artwork "awesome."

Ventiko says the characters in the milk carton costumes are silent and communicate solely through gesture. Learn more about the meaning of Sylva Dean and Me, and its three characters. 

"It is a true honor to have my work exhibited in galleries and at art fairs," she said. "However to be appreciated and enjoyed by the community and children gives me the greatest joy."

Sylva Dean and Me performing for Bushwick United Kids
Ventiko/Sylva Dean and Me
Sylva Dean and Me performing for Bushwick United Kids

"It is always wonderful to have children and teachers recognize their milk cartons!" she said.

sylva dean and me Kid Making MIlk carton instruments
Ventiko/Sylva Dean and Me
Kids making milk-carton instruments with the artist Ventiko

The next showing of Sylva Dean and Me will be June 17 at the Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick. 

Sylva Dean on the Train
Ventiko/Sylva Dean and Me
Sylva Dean and Me on the train
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