Nasty Women

01.23.17

Women's March, January 21, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Mariah Robertson.



INITIALLY, I RESISTED THE PUSSY HAT, that simple, pink, knitted or crocheted rectangular stocking cap that forms “ears” with its top corners, which became, thanks to grassroots efforts gone viral, de rigueur for the Women’s March. I quietly recoiled from that playful symbol seemingly at odds with my grave and militant agenda, not to mention my personal style. (During winter, I wear a felt beret in black, burgundy, or camel.) And while I’m usually game to celebrate the beauty and valor of women’s traditional work in the home, the crafty hats rubbed salt in the wound: I’d hoped, of course, this week that we’d see a woman breaking with tradition instead, starting work in the oval office. But my friend gave me a beautiful cap that she’d knit from chunky, dusty rose yarn. It was big enough to scrunch to the side in a beret-simulation, and I wore it in the cold outside the Party City near Brooklyn’s Barclays Center at 4:30 AM as we waited to board our bus on Inauguration Day.

Arriving in downtown DC just before the dreaded ceremony commenced, the profound utility of the pussy hat became crystal clear. You could instantly identify feminist or foe in the streets, and in all its proud homemade iterations, the pink hat was a relentless, effortlessly taunting, indisputably made-in-America riposte to the deplorable red MAGA cap and the pussy grabbing it represents. The stunning visual effect of the pussy hats en masse is well documented by the field-of-fuchsia aerial photos from Saturday’s marches, but it was also amazing to see them dispersed around the city in the mix of protests and inaugural events on Friday, as the marchers gradually gained critical mass. Rosy, abstracted cat-ears descended on the city in a constant stream, their wearers cheerfully greeting one another in restaurants, bathroom lines, and on public transportation as the Trump people skulked away. Later, at the hotel bar I watched the empty parade bleachers on CNN and my spirits soared. It seemed we would be granted one wish, at least—turnout for the Women’s March would beat the inauguration’s.

Saturday, as my little group tried to get close to the rally stage or jam-packed march route, a few friends texted me from their respective charter buses, still on their way to DC, mentioning their pussy-hat ambivalence. It’s infantilizing; essentialist. I was too caught up in the moment to respond at length about my own about-face, assuming when they arrived, they’d get it, too. You had to experience the scale and repetition of the hat to feel its power as a symbol not for vaginas or femininity but for a mass consensus of outrage, and (fingers crossed) commitment to defend every progressive gain and constitutional protection assaulted by the Not-Our-President. I didn’t choose the pussy hat. I don’t particularly “like” it, but I ecstatically surrendered to its iconic magic. It was ingenious and ubiquitous and will time-stamp each image of Trump’s humiliating Day Two, a historic moment for the nascent opposition.

Johanna Fateman is a musician, a writer, and an owner of Seagull Salon in New York. She is currently coediting a collection of Andrea Dworkin’s writings for Semiotext(e).

I-395 protest on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Zak Kitnick.



OUR GROUP OF FOUR drove down to DC two days prior to the Women’s March so we could also participate in the Inauguration Day demonstrations, thanks to a last-minute motel room on the outskirts of the city, miraculously obtained online by my Light Industry partner Thomas Beard. Gliding into an unexpectedly quiet city on late Thursday afternoon, we took advantage of the early arrival to check out the Virginia Dwan exhibition at the National Gallery. Only when we exited the building did we spy our first recognizable cluster of Trump supporters—a small group of men and women in identical red MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN ball caps—trodding down the edge of the largely empty National Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial. Our crew wandered in the same general direction, eventually stopping at the Washington Monument to look downhill at the Memorial, which was then flanked, from our vantage, by a series of Jumbotrons along the edges of the Reflecting Pool, each displaying what seemed to be a rock band performing. “Is that a live rehearsal or a music video?” my fellow-traveler Zak Kitnick wondered aloud. “I’m pretty sure they’re just doing a sound check,” I offered, unable to spy much of a crowd. Only later did we realize that we had accidentally witnessed 3 Doors Down perform at the official Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration Concert. Sad turnout!

Friday morning, we linked up with the Democratic Socialists of America at McPherson Square, where a scrappy, determined assembly had begun to form. As we marched and chanted we were taken aback by the relatively minimal police and military presence; compared with the mass protests in Manhattan, there seemed to be very little formal security in place. Reaching one of the inauguration entrance security checkpoints, we saw Trump supporters grumbling as they waited in a clogged-up queue made even more chaotic by the mass of protestors milling about. One chunk of the DSA group broke off to march a few blocks over to get a view of the Capitol steps, and we eventually followed the throngs up a nearby highway onramp, where we and hundreds of others suddenly found ourselves blocking traffic both ways on I-395. While much has been said about the diversity of attendees on Saturday, the highway-blocking gang seemed just as varied; it was a mix of protest veterans—a Black Lives Matter T-shirt here, an Antifa back-patch there—and folks who probably weren’t as experienced in civil disobedience: moms and dads with little kids in tow, gray-haired elders in fleece jackets, even a woman casually walking her dog down the Interstate. A Parks Department chopper circled overhead as a halted big rig honked rhythmically in support and DC commuters waved enthusiastically out of their car windows.

We four eventually walked down an exit to find food in the city proper, unexpectedly intersecting with crowds of Trump supporters apparently leaving the ceremony. It was a veritable bestiary of right-wingers in town to celebrate their dubious victory—rich Republican fur-clad ghoul-women, their faces stretched taut against their bones; supersized suburbanites in XXL mall-wear; ’Muricans sporting Duck Dynasty camo and beards; gangs of young preppy assholes in Trump football scarves (“J.Crew fascists,” our friend Collin Leitch put it). Some Trumpers seemed genuinely surprised to see any protesters in DC that day, and a few felt emboldened enough to confront us directly after noticing our RESIST TRUMP placards. As we made our way through the city, some angry deplorables called us losers, crybabies, and “snowflakes” (an obscure right-wing term for liberals that one of us had to google); a particularly colorful character in a homemade JESUS SAVES leather jacket called me a sinner and a “libtard,” and a Southern woman who apparently wasn’t caught up with the news cycle told us to “move to Russia if you don’t like it.” The vibe became menacing enough that a lone protester from LA asked if she could walk with us to her Metro stop, and not long after we left her, an older Midwestern couple tagged along for the same reasons. But more remarkable was the fact that the opposing crowds, despite some angry interjections, largely jostled past one another without comment, and we never personally witnessed any instance of physical violence between the camps.

Toward the late afternoon, we collapsed on park benches near L’Enfant Plaza for a break. Two workgear-clad guys in their twenties stopped to inquire what our red armbands meant, perhaps unsure if the color indicated we were down with MAGA. “We’re socialists,” I snapped back, Thomas no doubt wondering if my big mouth was finally going to get us in trouble. The two guys stopped for a beat, as if processing the information. “Like Bernie?” one of them asked. “Yeah,” Thomas answered, “Like Bernie.” The pair just nodded and moved on.

Ed Halter, a founder and director of Light Industry in New York, teaches as critic in residence at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Austin, Texas. Photo: Zoe Leonard.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Austin, Texas. Photo: Zoe Leonard.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Austin, Texas. Photo: Zoe Leonard.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Austin, Texas. Photo: Zoe Leonard.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Austin, Texas. Photo: Zoe Leonard.


DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS.

Zoe Leonard is an artist based in New York.

Women's March, January 21, 2017, San Francisco. Photo: Roberto Valentino Sanchez.



THE WOMEN’S MARCH SAN FRANCISCO: resolute despite the rain, damning amid the darkness. The march began at 5 PM. Was the later start time so that folks could attend both the Oakland and SF marches (collective coordination) or a result of the annual anti-abortion Walk for Life rally that had booked the route for the afternoon (antagonistic antitheses)? I heard both as the reason. Either way, as day turned to night, tens of thousands of protestors from throughout the Bay Area descended on San Francisco. The march progressed along Market Street from the downtown Civic Center to the waterside Ferry Building, passing tech hubs for Twitter HQ (#Twitler) and Uber (whose CEO recently signed onto Trump’s economic advisory board). Tech’s complicity in the city’s stifling gentrification and Trump’s horrific ascent is no joke.

Downpouring rain washed over the chants of the crowd. Shared umbrellas and a solemn air: The rain and darkness brought us together. I find myself believing more and more in pathetic fallacy these days. Gloom-and-doom go hand in hand.

PS: Best sign: “I’ve seen more intelligent cabinets at IKEA.”

Alex Fialho is programs director at Visual AIDS and a writer and curator based in New York.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Hope Okere.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Mariah Robertson.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Mariah Robertson.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Mariah Robertson.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Maggie Clinton.

  • Women's March, January 21, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Sara Greenberger Rafferty.


IT IS 4:00 AM and you wonder why your alarm is going off and you go to turn it off but you realize in a panic that you must get to the bus. It is Saturday and what else were you going to do today anyway but mope around and try to get some writing done and drink too much coffee and bemoan the state of the world while reading the New York Times. Instead you start walking at 5:20 AM to meet your friend Cole and you hop on the L train at Graham Avenue and then on the 6 train at Union Square and in thirty minutes you are at Astor Place. Laurie envelops you in a big hug and you are welcomed. Standing at the entrance, Mary says hi and tells you she is getting you a star for your #starsofallstripes campaign with MoveOn. You get on a big pink bus; you fall asleep for a few hours until it is 8:30 AM when everyone is abuzz. Anne is reading a real book and you are reminded of her poem “The Glass Essay”:

At 4 A.M. I wake. Thinking
of the man who
left in September.
His name was Law.

Maybe because you expected we’d break the glass ceiling in November and maybe because you’re thinking of President Obama, the man who left yesterday and whose name also evoked law—not only what is legal but also what is human—what the ancients called natural law. Everyone is handing out something: caps, sandwiches, cookies, buttons.

Laurie’s fingernails are painted red, silver, and blue instead of the usual silver. She stops to talk to me and I ask her what it was like organizing this trip, she says, “Three nights sleep lost, because we now have a sense of urgency. It is never too late to march. I started at fifteen protesting the war in Vietnam at the Pentagon in October of 1967. Can you believe this march is the fiftieth anniversary of me marching in DC?” Marilyn echoed the statement: “I’m an old gal. This might be my last major march. I marched for Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam, Clinic Defense, for ACT UP, and the WAC Women’s March. We march because marching works.”

You get to Maryland faster than you think. And someone is handing out transit cards and you take the redline all the way to Union Station. There, mainly black men are hocking gear and the crowd is awash in knit pink hats. Your favorite signs are there: “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.” And new signs: “Impeach the Peach” and “Twinkle, twinkle, little Tsar, Putin put you where you are.” People are at a standstill; there are 500,000 on the parade route and marching is slow-going but a peaceful family affair. Where are the universal protest songs of our time? We don’t have them yet and so we’re singing Woody Guthrie’s 1940 hit “This Land Is Your Land” and chanting “Black Lives Matter.” Passing the Newseum, you see that they have printed a giant banner iterating the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights to our Constitution. They have printed a small banner beneath the big banner welcoming the new president Donald Trump. No room for subtlety here. “This is just the beginning,” says Marina. “A symbolic gesture so they know we are watching. We need small and great acts of civil disobedience. We need to remember the moral choice. Remember slavery was once legal but it was not right.” Some of us head back to the bus and others stayed in the capital. A flurry of emails followed the next day. Perhaps we were all reminded of our civic duty. Perhaps we have forgotten to act like citizens, delegating the nasty task to others to microfocus on life in our family units, in our friend groups, and on our careers. Protesting for change is tedious business, boring even after decades of effort. In this country activism is rarely dangerous or hard, but it is necessary. You get on the bus.

Andrianna Campbell is a writer based in New York.

For more on the new world order, read Michelle Kuo’s Editor’s Letter in the January issue of Artforum.

Takuma Nakahira, Untitled (C-215), 1971, black-and-white photograph, 20 x 24".


IN 1970, the Japanese photographer Takuma Nakahira was asked by a publication to respond to the topic of “urban rebellion.” He took the assignment literally, relaying the successive images that took shape in his mind:

Urban and rebellion, somehow these words stir up an image within me that must be at night, where a fire burns bright red, as if to make the night exist all the darker. In addition, it must be filled with terror and disquiet. Described in this manner, my image of urban rebellion is very commonplace, something that can all too easily be related to any of the spectacles like that of the Shinjuku riot on October 21, 1968, from ten to twelve PM, and the scene around Kamata Station on the evening of November 16, 1969. Even so, why do I always imagine a fire? And why night?

I’ve been thinking about his response for a while now, coming back to it over and over again this past year and especially in these past few days. It’s those doubtful and ambiguous questions that still seem crucial, that I find myself asking too: Even so, why do I always imagine a fire? And why night?

One of the implicit forces driving those questions is a total frustration with the role of familiar images, informing a wider sequence of experimentation within Japanese militant film, organizing, and critique in those years. (And at least partially contributing to Nakahira’s decision later that decade to burn most of his negatives and prints, torching proxies of Tokyo in lieu of what always seemed to put out the flames in time.) The frustration came from an obvious gap between the messy, expansive process of revolt and the still images used to frame it, whether literal photographs or the stilted historical categories that try and define what is political in the first place. That gap is never neutral, and it isn’t a problem of simply not enough images or too few photographers, although it certainly involves too few of them willing to put down the camera to intervene in what is happening directly in front of them. What the gap marks instead is the way that both our readily available images—that ample archive of fire, night, barricade, riot cops, burning dumpsters, clouds of gas, a dog stalking the periphery who barks and barks…—and the conventions that shape what new ones get taken or formed tend to reiterate well-worn tropes, crowding out other possibilities. And as Nakahira makes clear, almost apologetically, this fire and night is indeed “an old fashioned image”—but one that just keeps coming back all the same. “[W]hen I envision urban rebellion,” he writes, “this is the scene I always imagine.”

Here, on the eve of the coronation of one who dreams of being an emperor—of increasingly explicit attempts to plunge millions further into sickness and debt, to coddle the fascists and decimate the vulnerable, to further criminalize and expel any threat to the coherence of racial capitalism—we’re coming into weeks and months of open rage, refusal, and planning. Part of this surely means that night comes to mean fire, that as has been the case for so long, night is a time for conspiracy, for being ungovernable, and for changing what the ground of the next day looks like. This is part of the answer Nakahira gives to his recurring fantasy: He can only imagine this way, this flame and chaos, because the very spaces where he lives and fights have frozen into a material image of what allows no way in, an impossibly smooth network of function, circulation, and profit where every element, from highway to cafe, verifies the legitimacy of the order that the cops kill to protect. So any revolt against that order means that it will have to lash out everywhere and must refuse to accept the sites, actions, and channels that have been already sanctioned as adequately political.

What lingers unanswered in Nakahira’s essay yet seems to drive the doubt of those questions is the other side of this: the day that comes before the night, the night that the cameras don’t bother with. Asking why do we imagine fire, why night also means asking what else we don’t imagine, asking if rebellion ever really happens within so narrow a scope. To limit its range like that, to restrict the articulation of absolute dissent to just what we’ve gotten used to thinking of as revolt, reinforces something that needs to be ruined in full: a politics of public presence, national belonging, and civic representation. Because that is the understanding that has historically been used to dictate who gets to count and be counted, cutting from the scene any considered anathema to the spheres of liberal society constructed around their ongoing exclusion, use, and abuse.

Against that, it seems we need to keep asking why only fire, why only night? What about the other work that lays the tinder and weaves fuses into the bales, even if it doesn’t strike the match on camera? What about what happens unseen, not because it is clandestine and we’ve already taken out all the streetlights, but because it takes place at noon, at dawn, all through the day and night continually without rest, in forms that don’t get the opportunity for grand revolt or that refuse to show themselves and be named? Who chooses night? What is never seen to burn because its fire is expected to always be lit, always ready to warm those who need it most?

Evan Calder Williams is a writer and artist who lives in upstate New York. He is a founding member of the collective Thirteen Black Cats and teaches at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.

Suzanne Lacy and Andrea Bowers, Performance Lessons: Suzanne Lacy Teaches Andrea Bowers Performance Art, 2016, powdered graphite, acrylic markers. Installation view, Beta Main, Los Angeles, 2016. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.


WE ENTERED THIS PROJECT TOGETHER to explore the aesthetic and political implications of our personal relationship. The work frames the transfer of knowledge between women as an act of resistance. Two women, two generations: Our lives and work are shaped by an unwavering commitment to justice, which encompasses not only women, but all those oppressed by the powerful. The mythologies underlying misogyny were in full evidence in the months and days leading up to the historic election on November 8, 2016, and in the subsequent results. This project embodies some ideas of performance art as developed in downtown Los Angeles during the socially turbulent 1970s, where identity, body, and politics mixed. Among many who attended our conversations, we discovered a desire for community that celebrates intergenerational relationships between women as a political necessity. In this moment of peril for our country, we are committed to relationships that honor differences and build alliances. Art has never been more urgent because our liberation is bound together.

Suzanne Lacy is an artist, activist, writer, and educator based in Los Angeles.

Andrea Bowers is an artist, activist, and educator based in Los Angeles.

Kay Rosen, Uh Oh, 2017.


Kay Rosen is an artist who lives in Gary, Indiana, and New York. A solo exhibition of her work, “Kay Rosen: H is for House,” will be on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, from March 5 to September 4, 2017.

Above: Nona Faustine, Over My Dead Body, 2013. Tweed Courthouse, built on top of an African burial ground.
 
Below: Nona Faustine, Liberty Is Sweet, Capital Closed, 2016.


Nona Faustine is an artist who lives and works in New York. Faustine’s two-woman exhibition with artist Joiri Minaya, “The Body as Battleground,” opens at the Ben Shahn Center for Visual Arts, William Paterson University on January 31 and runs through March 19, 2017.


REHEARSAL FOR A REVOLUTION

A MASS DEMONSTRATION on September 28, 2014 against India’s current prime minster, Narendra Modi. He represents a right-wing Hindu extremism that emboldens and perpetrates caste-based, xenophobic, sexual, and anti-Muslim violence. There are no shortages of parallels to be made between Trump, Modi, and a growing list of world leaders and policies that seem to be emanating from the same right-wing populist, reactionary sources.


“The truth is that mass demonstrations are rehearsals for revolution: not strategic or even tactical ones, but rehearsals of revolutionary awareness. The delay between the rehearsals and the real performance may be very long: Their quality—the intensity of rehearsed awareness—may, on different occasions, vary considerably: but any demonstration which lacks this element of rehearsal is better described as an officially encouraged public spectacle. A demonstration, however much spontaneity it may contain, is a created event which arbitrarily separates itself from ordinary life. Its value is the result of its artificiality, for therein lies its prophetic, rehearsing possibilities.”
John Berger, “The Nature of Mass Demonstrations.”

our acts of resistance & their global context

For the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the performative nature of protest, from die-ins on hospital floors and protestors standing in saltwater for weeks on end, to the fine choreography behind scaling a flagpole to remove a confederate flag. These signs and gestures form a visual vocabulary of resistance that accrues great beauty and power in our image-dominated age.

As we forge paths of resistance in a post T—— America, let’s keep our eyes on the culture of protest that has already been thriving around us. In our art world(s), we could align more intentionally with those who have had no choice but to stand up against white supremacy and xenophobia, institutional erasures, sexual violence, or strangling economic policies, beyond the United States as well as in our backyards.

If you were to talk about this election with someone from outside the US—someone from the global south, say—chances are you might hear with sympathy and understanding: “This what we’ve been living with for years” or “Welcome to the rest of the world.”

on the pestilence within and next door

Along with the sinking feeling and shame that accompanied me for the days (or weeks) after the election, I kept returning to the same refrain of “Who could they possibly be, those people who voted for…?” (as empty and misguided as it was…)

After all, it was not they, or even over there somewhere, was it? As artists and cultural workers we might stop externalizing this right-wing conservatism and instead observe it with awareness: How is it actually symptomatic of, and more often than not, replicated in the art world(s) we inhabit?

The daily grind of resistance includes a profound and often painful awareness of the deeply contradictory realities we inhabit, of one’s complicity or indirect involvement, in even the smallest of ways, in maintaining the status quo. Chasing consolidated wealth, and sustaining the dominance of market forces, deep segregation, and xenophobia manifests all around us: a lover’s parents, a museum trustee at your job who is interested in safeguarding his assets, an old family friend who urges that we “just give him a chance now.”

What remains to be seen is whether those in the contemporary art world(s) with privilege, visibility, and decision-making power will be able to connect their shock and critique of the current state of affairs, of the prominence of proto-fascist, Islamophobic, and racist ideologies, with an ongoing series of absences and erasures—both discursive and representational—of brown, black, immigrant, disabled, dissenting, and other othered voices—from museum shows, anthologies, symposia, executive staff, boards, and trustees.

For example, next time you encounter an opening/gala/meeting/propaganda-making party/birthday/exhibition/group critique/feminist event, count the number of brown people in the room. Is everyone able-bodied? What about the queers? How did this come to be and why? Were you the only person of color in the room? Or one of three? What could be done to change this?

Chitra Ganesh is a Brooklyn-based artist whose drawing, installation, text-based work, and collaborations suggest and excavate buried narratives typically absent from official canons of history, literature, and art. She is a 2017 Hodder Fellow at the Princeton University's Lewis Center for the Arts.