A poster from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s series “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” 2012–

IN JULY I beamed with pleasure while reading the essay “Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child” by Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern, published by the New Inquiry. The sharp, insouciant piece is an extended riposte to the French radical philosophy journal Tiqqun’s book Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, published in English by Semiotext(e) in 2012. Weigel and Ahern reject the Young-Girl as a gendered scapegoat and take aim instead at her “boyish critic” who exemplifies a dominant strain of cultural passive-aggression and reliance on irony. Mimicking Tiqqun’s style, they write, “The Man-Child tells a racist joke. It is not funny. It is the fact that the Man-Child said something racist that is.”

I was also happy to see, as I exited a Duane Reade in Harlem one day, a poster by the artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh wheat-pasted on the side of one of those green mailboxes. I didn’t know then that it was by her, of course. It was mysterious feminist street art: a blown-up pencil drawing of a young woman, a frontal view of her serious face with text below. WOMEN, it read in bold on the first line. Then, in smaller type: DO NOT OWE YOU THEIR TIME OR CONVERSATION. Eventually, I found Fazlalizadeh’s blog at the perfect URL stoptellingwomentosmile.com, and saw her other anti–street harassment portrait-posters. Watch for them!

Other exciting public interventions were documented in “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art,” at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. (The second part of this survey will be on view at the Studio Museum until March 9th.) I was intrigued when Adrian Piper staged a protest of the exhibition’s premise, withdrawing a film from the exhibition that documents her transformation into her male alter ego the Mythic Being, the protagonist of a series of influential conceptual works from the 1970s. On my second visit to the Grey Gallery, a press release was taped to the monitor where the film had played: Piper’s letter to curator Valerie Cassel Oliver suggests a better context for the shows’ artists would be “multi-ethnic exhibitions that give American audiences the rare opportunity to measure directly the groundbreaking achievements of African American artists against those of their peers in ‘the art world at large.’ ” This critique notwithstanding, the show was the occasion for an impressive schedule of performances, and an opportunity to see a wide range of performance-based historic and contemporary works by African American artists.

In her startling essay for the December 5th issue of the New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith looks at a sixteenth-century work by Luca Signorelli, a charcoal drawing of a man with a corpse across his shoulders, and challenges herself to identify with the dead body instead of with the picture’s muscled hero. “Like most people in New York,” she explains, “I daily expect to find myself walking the West Side Highway with nothing but a shopping cart stacked with bottled water, a flashlight, and a dead loved one on my back, seeking a suitable site for burial.” Her point is that—absurdly—post-apocalyptic survival is easier to imagine than our human fate, our inevitable “corpsification.” The wandering text touches on Rothko and Warhol, then Karl Ove Knausgaard, Tao Lin, and Louis C.K., as she asks herself, as an artist, “How can I insist upon the reality of death, for others, and for myself?”

The question was still on my mind a few days after I read the piece, as I walked—toward the West Side Highway—to see “Jo Spence: Work (Part III) ‘the History Lesson’ ” at White Columns. The British socialist feminist photographer Spence died from leukemia in 1992, leaving behind a confrontational, inventive body of work rarely shown in the US. Her self-portraits and laminated collage panels are often boldly didactic, reflecting an activist and therapeutic approach to image-making: Beginning in the ’70s she interrogated sex and class stereotypes, and when she became ill with breast cancer in the ’80s, she charted her resistance to dehumanizing medical care. At the gallery’s front desk I found a beautiful new book. Jo Spence: The Final Project reproduces mournful, macabre, and often funny works from the artist’s final two years as she faced her terminal diagnosis. In one photograph she stands among tombstones at the edge of a deep grave, looking down. In another she’s in a cathedral (I think), wearing aviator-frame sunglasses in front of a wall of skulls. She holds onto a sign that reads: TO THE CRYPT.

Johanna Fateman is a musician, a writer, and an owner of Seagull Salon in New York. She is working on a book about Andrea Dworkin.