Street harassment that ranges from annoying to unprintable to outright threatening is ubiquitous in most cities, and women are usually left with no choice but to treat it as another lousy inevitability of urban life, like high rent or rats in the subway.
Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s provocative public art project “Stop Telling Women To Smile” gives voice to what many women wish they could say back to harassers. In March this year, Fazlalizadeh began wheat-pasting a series of posters around Philly and Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, graphite portraits of women emblazoned with sharp slogans: “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” “Women Do Not Owe You Their Time Or Conversation,” “Women Are Not Outside for Your Entertainment,” “My Outfit Is Not an Invitation,” and “My Name Is Not Baby, Shorty, Sexy, Sweetie, Honey, Pretty, Boo, Sweetheart, Ma.”
Now Fazlalizadeh has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help take her celebrated project to cities around the country. Setting her goal at $15,000 to cover costs of travel, materials, and film documentation, the campaign ends on October 3.
“The thing about this work is that it quickly moves from the street to the Internet. And that’s where a lot of conversation has happened, making it easy for me to track the responses, Fazlalizadeh tells Co.Design. “I have noticed a lot of reactions from men who didn’t know what street harassment is, or that some things they’ve said or done to women outdoors is perceived as street harassment. There has been some learning.”
Rewards for donating to the Kickstarter campaign range from tote bags and T-shirts commanding “Stop Telling Women to Smile” to original drawings, posters to put up in your own neighborhood, and, for a pledge of $5,000 or more, a custom-painted oil portrait of you or whoever you want. For $8,000 or more, you get to travel with the artist to two cities and participate in conversations about stopping street harassment.
In Fazlalizadeh’s straightforward designs, some of the subjects look daggers at the viewer; others are defiant or subtly pissed. “I didn’t add any explanation of the project to the posters because I wanted them to be simple, direct, and to the point. I didn’t want them to look like a PSA, or some MTA campaign,” she explains. “There is the face of the woman portrayed, and her direct statement. It’s similar to the comments we hear from men outside. It’s quick, it hits you, you keep moving.”
The portraits are rendered in black-and-white, making them stand out against buildings of any color. And the lettering is designed to catch your eye in the midst of urban bustle, says the artist: “Once I decide what the text will be, I compose it using two fonts. Whatever the focus word is, I use the larger, bolder typeface. In most of the posters it’s the word Women.”
The public nature of her project lends it a collaborative, in-progress element. In Brooklyn earlier this year, Fazlalizadeh says, “A man came by and wrote his response in the white space of a poster. He disagreed with what the work said and explained why. A few days later, a woman wrote on the poster in defense of the work. And then someone else responded, and someone else. After a few weeks, the poster was covered in different handwriting. It was sort of like a comments section. To see a dialogue like that happen in the environment, on the actual work, was pretty fascinating.”