With sexual exploitation dominating entertainment and political headlines recently, newly empowered women are talking publicly and candidly about their personal experiences that were once silenced. The viral #MeToo campaign on social media has taken their voices to the next level and opened up an honest conversation about the abuse of women by men. At the National Museum of Women in the Arts, an exhibit by Mexican artist, Monica Mayer is currently running and challenges patrons to ask themselves pointed questions like:
“Where do you feel safe?”
“Have you ever experienced violence or harassment?”
Exhibit visitors are asked to respond on small pink cards and their answers are hung up on a clothesline, or a “tendedero” which in Spanish means drying rack or clothesline.
In our interview, Ms. Mayer explained the genesis of her exhibit.
What ignited you to create the El Tendedero/The Clothesline Project?
I was invited to participate in an important exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City. Its central theme was “the city” and I decided to work on sexual harassment in public transport — a topic I really hated. No one was talking about it. And, as a feminist, I was well aware that the personal is political, and it was a problem that was being neutralized and we needed to start talking about it. I went out and invited women from different professions, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds to talk to me about what they disliked about our city. Some would say, “the traffic,” for example, and I would ask them, “do you hate catcalls?” When they answered “yes,” I would ask them to write that down on paper. From that point on, during the show, women would start writing down their own experiences.
You utilize the clothesline, metaphorically, as a symbol of traditional female domesticity as the focus of your project. How have women responded to it?
The clothesline is a symbol of female domesticity, but the content of the answers goes against the traditional role of women in two way: First, it’s a structure that allows everyone the same space to share their experience, much like the early feminist consciousness-raising groups. Secondly, it speaks of violence against women, a reality usually silenced in patriarchal societies. I think most women have understood this and have, therefore, always participated generously in the piece.
What has been the response to your project in D.C.?
It’s been very good. The three workshops I presented in September at The House of Ruth with artists and activists allowed us to get the specific questions for this Tendedero. I am very grateful to La Clínica del Pueblo and The Living Well (Baltimore) for making their owns Tendederos to help us get answers from different communities. We already have almost 450 answers. I think part of the response has to do with the harassment discussion going on currently in show business and the art community in the U.S. Somehow, my Tendedero, which started in 1978 allows us to see how long we’ve really been fighting against harassment and that it is an international struggle.
What do you hope to accomplish, or inspire in terms of reducing violence against women overall?
Unfortunately, I think harassment is still covered up and normalized, so it’s still necessary to do this piece. Museums, universities, independent artist groups and organizations like Amnesty International keep asking for it. As an art project, I’m interested in opening the discussions of the limits between art, activism, and education, as well as, the tensions between individual and collective art.
Will you be touring other cities? If so, where and when?
I will be installing a clothesline piece in December in Chihuahua, Mexico at the First National Feminist and Gender Studies Encounter at their state university. I’m also working on several other pieces that have to do with art and archives, something I’ve have been working on for the past six years.
El Tendedero/Clothesline Project is presented as part of the 2017-18 Women, Arts and Social Change season and will be exhibiting through January 5, 2018.
#NMWA #theclotheslineproject #metoo #womeninthearts #arts
Cecilia Mencia is a DC-based journalist writing about culture, the arts, and social issues. She’s the founder of DCtrending — A digital feature magazine focusing on stories with social and cultural impact in the nation’s capital.