Women Are Heroes via JR on Vimeo.
As an art form, public art is all about scale: the larger the wall, the better. In transforming huge walls into canvases, street artists have found a way to transform the visual aesthetic, but also function, of a given space. Walls become not just surfaces for painting but areas for social commentary.
Since starting this blog, I’ve been interested in the ways that street art can create an experience — not only aesthetically, but through its ability to spark dialogue. Lately, I’ve especially been interested in pieces that address women’s issues, from violence against women to public perception. Check out a few of my favorite projects:
Photo by vincent desjardins.
Women are Heroes
JR often works with portraits, printing large-scale faces and affixing them to public spaces. For this piece, he traveled to Brazil to capture the faces and eyes of women. He then transformed these into large-scale pieces that covered Moro de Providencia favela. The work references the fact that women “are the primary victims of war, crime, rape and political or religious fanaticism.” The project has also taken place in Kenya, India and more.
The simplicity of the project lies in its ability to put a face to the statistics, to humanize the many women who becomes just numbers in reports of violence. The project have gone viral and eventually resulted in a book also called Women are Heroes.
Stop Telling Women to Smile
I’m also a fan of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s ‘Stop Telling Women to Smile‘ project which has now been installed in various cities. The artist takes a similar approach to JR in that she approaches women to draw their portraits. Fazlalizadeh also hosts meetings so that women can share their negative experiences with cat calling. She creates a safe space for them to discuss these incidents; the phrases included with the portraits are often taken from what the women share. Her work has appeared both on the streets — everywhere from New York to Paris — and in the gallery setting.
Fazlalizadeh told the New York Times: “Women need to start talking about their daily moments because it’s the smaller stuff that affects the larger things, like rape, domestic violence, harassment in the workplace.” The pieces reverse the male gaze, throwing back the action of scrutiny with a confidence and assertion that is palpable no matter the city.
Photo by shoehorn99.
Portrait of Sylvia Elena
Swoon creates intricate paper pieces that she often posts in public spaces. A multifaceted artist, she also creates installations and floating pieces. In 2008, visitors to Honey Space could descend into a cave-like space underground. There, they encountered the Portrait of Sylvia Elena, a paper piece featuring a teenager in her quinciañera dress. A victim of the violence against women in Juarez, Sylvia Elena died at a young age. Swoon met with her mother and learned more about the other dead or disappeared women in the region and created this piece.
After its initial installation, other iterations of the piece appeared in outdoor spaces in San Francisco and Mexico. Paper, a fragile medium, peels away and disintegrates eventually — reinforcing the tragic nature of the violent incidents.