Nasty Women Protest with Art
By Cat Del Buono
“Such a nasty woman.” It’s those shocking words we heard during a presidential debate, spoken by now president of the United States (#NotMyPresident) that have triggered a firestorm of reactions. Those words felt very juvenile, sexist, and insulting of Hillary Clinton who presented herself as more, well, presidential. The aftereffect of this name-calling has been women uniting behind the subject of that insult and an instant reclaiming of the word as a way to show solidarity. Women everywhere began identifying as Nasty Women. T-shirts and buttons were made, people tweeted “I Am a Nasty Woman Because____.” And recently, the Nasty Women Exhibition happened.
This group show of 623 artists ran from January 12 to January 15 at the Knockdown Center in Queens, NY right before the much-dreaded inauguration. This visual art protest, as the organizers call it, revealed Nasty Women artists everywhere who wanted to band together against Trump. Those artists included myself and Expose Art Magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief, Chintia Kirana.
I spoke to Angel Bellaran, one of the organizers who explained how and why this show came about. Together with artist Roxanne Jackson and curator Jessamyn Fiore, the three went to a protest march the Saturday after the election. They began talking about wanting to organize and do something to protest the president elect. Roxanne, in a knee-jerk reaction, posted a call on Facebook. Hello female artists/curators! Lets organize a NASTY WOMEN group show!!! Who’s interested???
After getting more than 300 responses in just an hour, they knew they had to do the show. Since Jessamyn was on the board of Knockdown Center- an art and performance space – they were able to find dates that were open for them to have the show. “It was fate,” said Angel. The huge open space consisting of large windows, old wood beams, and brick walls may be architecturally impressive, but difficult to hang artworks. So team member Clive Murphy came up with the idea of creating large letters spelling out “Nasty Women” as a monument to hang the artworks from. They also decided this show should be a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood and that they would accept all works submitted, as long as simple guidelines were followed. The other Nasty team members are Barbara Smith, Liz Nielson, Young Sun Han, Carolina Wheat, Haley M. Shaw, Aimee Odum, and Stephanie Stockbridge.
Upon first arriving at the space, I found the huge letters a little gimmicky and the range of the artworks – from very amateur to obviously more professional – to be a bit distracting. But I soon realized that the mission and the point of the exhibit revolved more around having a voice about the political storm we are about to face rather than the quality of art works on display. I warmed up to the idea of the inclusiveness and the fact it wasn’t juried or curated. It felt like a strong statement from individuals who just wanted to be part of a group and who were taking comfort in the fact they are not alone in their fears and anger. It gave me a sense of pride to see the large number of works together clearly showing solidarity, unity, and a collective voice.
“We didn’t want to turn anyone away and that spirit was even in it from the get go,” explained Angel. “The idea of potentially being shot down would keep some people from applying and that’s not what we wanted. This is giving a voice to a vast majority of individuals that would never be able to have that voice in a blue chip gallery or even in an institution.“ Angel informed me there were works submitted by high school students and even a couple children. “But then we also have extremely established artists.”
Keri Oldham, a friend of Roxanne, heard about the show through the Facebook post. Her work is about women confronting fear and slaying their demons- both internally and externally. She submitted “Yellow Roses,” a print that has struck a chord with a lot of women. “So many of us were in shock after the election – beyond disappointment,” Keri told me. “A loss of faith in the identity of America as a progressive country. The Nasty Women show brought female voices together in retaliation to reclaim that identity and as a way to fight back!”
Another piece by Leslie Kelman looked like a typical doctor’s office questionnaire until you really read it. Leslie explained, “This piece uses humor to talk about the fact we give away so much personal information just to prove we exist or to classify or qualify ourselves.” With regards to the democratic process of the show, she related to the idea that with no jury there was no need to prove you matter or to demonstrate your value. As a friend of Roxanne, she found out about the show right away and became a volunteer. She was impressed with how much the organizers put together in such a short amount of time.
There were too many interesting works to be named. They ranged from humorous to grotesque, from drawings and paintings to ceramics and video. There were photographs documenting anti-Trump protests. There were a number of unflattering Trump portraits such as him as an Umpa Lumpa and another as an old woman wearing pearls. There was a depiction of Trump as male genitalia called “#trumpsucksballs.” It’s obvious there would also be works making use of the “grab them by the pussy” comment our new president made a few years ago. (Yes, that same man is the president). For example, a ceramic piece of two cats wrestling an orange-faced boy called “Pussies Grabbing Back” by Debra Broz and panties made of cat food labels by Diane Bronstein.
Other works worth mentioning: a painting by Amanda Church, a piece by Anna Pinkas, a print by Angela Pilgrim, drawings by Wyeth Moss, and photos by Heather Sutherland, Elizabeth White, and Anne Arden McDonald.
On the front of the large T was a collage of all the video submissions, which was designed and mapped by Victoria Keddie. This projection created a nice visual affect when looking at the NASTY WOMEN monument. Two video monitors were also showing an endless loop of videos on the sides of the T. One video was on its own monitor but only because of a technical issue where that video was left off the loop of the other videos. It unintentionally made it feel like a special showcase of that video. A problem with having one monitor to view the videos: one would really have to make the time to get through all 44 videos instead of being able to browse through a number of videos on multiple monitors.
Of the many videos on view, the first one I saw was “Tick Tock” by Kelsy Gossett. The video shows a woman crushing eggs in her underwear. This video references women’s reproductive rights and “has the potential to grab attention, create pause and get you to think,” Kelsy said. Which is true because I couldn’t stop watching. Regarding the call for Nasty Women artists, “I was immediately excited to be a part of a group of women forming solidarity against Trump’s discriminatory rhetoric and potential policy.” I, too, felt strongly about submitting a video that dealt with women’s reproductive rights since I feel that is one of the most threatened of our rights.
Katya Grokhovsky was also immediately interested in participating when she heard about the show. “I felt hopeless after the election and was looking for a way to act, to activate, to respond to the situation somehow as an artist.” Her short video “Hotness (approval pending)” seems like a GIF in its repetition of a naked, headless torso spinning around in an endless jerky motion with the words “approval pending…” beneath the image. “I felt it talked about my feelings about the patriarchy suitably. I am so tired of my body and life being constantly policed by the male gaze, by the male approval or disapproval, be it my appearance, my lifestyle choices or my health. I am exhausted by the subjugation, discrimination and objectification and that fatigue has manifested itself into my work.”
Most of the works had a political slant and were meant to be a catalyst for discussion and action. Almost all were snatched up on opening night. The show raised about $35,000 that night alone and by the end of the exhibit – with all works sold – raised just over $42,000 for Planned Parenthood. This is a huge statement that not only the artists but those who attended the show were standing together in support of organizations that are being threatened by the new regime, I mean, administration.
What’s also interesting about this exhibit – this movement – is the fact that the organizers invited others to do Nasty Women shows in other cities as long as they followed two rules: to have the funds go to a women’s organization and to include a diverse group of female-identifying artists. There are now 30 other Nasty Women exhibits confirmed. When I asked Angel what’s next for the Nasty Women group, she said they were so busy focusing on the opening that they hadn’t really thought about what’s next. “This is open ended. To be continued,” Angel stated. She thought the show turned out so well, she wishes they could keep the open call forever. Angel mentioned that Jessamyn will happen to be in London at the same time the Nasty Women show takes place there and that they may consider taking road trips to other Nasty shows near NYC. So keep an eye out for the original Nasty Women in a city near you.
This show became an opportunity for people to go beyond petition signing or making statements on social media. The hundreds of works came together as a strong and overwhelming feeling that we’re in this together. And even though our future seems very bleak, this was one moment of hope. Out of something horrific there seems to be a growing movement of people uniting to protect the progress that has been made so far. (Just look at the huge turnout of the January 21st Women’s March worldwide.) And being a Nasty Woman is just the beginning.
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