Representing at the Women’s March
García Sinclair (MFA Printmaking 2018)
Embodied Phenomenology as a lens for Performance: A text / a monologue for audition to be a subject / performance within the movement
plural noun: movements
- an act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed.
“a slight movement of the upper body”
- a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas.
“the labor movement”
Where women’s politics are perceived—of the body, intuited vs. rationalized through the brain or thinking—where and for what purpose in this movement do constructs of gender serve hetero-normative ideals?
Knitting a pussy to wear as a crown? Where do I fit in, in-between, interstitial, fluid.
One / periphery / does not always give way to the status quo, yet shares / takes up public and civic space with it.
Queer self—honoring movements, making spaces in the archive for those who are not visible or considered. Queer, Trans-Gender/Non-Conforming, First-Generation American, Bi-lingual, Latina, Working Class Poor, First Person to Have a College Degree in Their Family / the personal is political …
Kelly Mitchell (MFA Printmaking 2018)
At the Women’s March on Washington, feminist theory and activism existed outside of inaccessible academic landscapes and thrived in the streets. Like feminism, it was momentous, important, essential, and problematic. After 8 hours of driving, with a shoulder-to-shoulder carload occupied by 7 women I respect, admire, and value, we arrived, at 3 AM, at the nation’s capital. A quick nap and a plate of scrambled eggs later, we headed out to Independence Ave, and 3rd street in order to congregate and protest, amongst those who exist on a spectrum of participation: from those who continually fight against xenophobia, homophobia, racism, misogyny, and fascism with active resistance or the actions of their everyday lives to those for whom this fear is new (the privileged).
This march was scrutinized and ultimately rejected by a multitude of women of color who I turn to for news, literature, and kinship. I found myself at a crossroads: skeptical, although less so than the women I turn to as cultural barometers, but nonetheless determined, refusing to deny the importance of an historical moment that maybe, just maybe, could transcend the intersectional ties that simultaneously liberate and constrain us. As the crowd swelled and the space between bodies disappeared, I teetered: awestruck, proud, and moved while shrouded in a type of heartbreak rooted in a lack of control over my own safety that exists for me and countless others every day. A heartbreak perpetuated by microaggressions that are never recognized, misplaced appreciation of support from non-POCs, and a sinking feeling that chants of “Black Lives Matter” can ring out as an empty rallying cry, only resulting in an underserved self-satisfaction for the white voices who, in shouting this truth for the first time, believe they are moving mountains.
The march was prefaced by a rally, so well attended it stands out as an epic moment that marks the beginning of a new era of active participation amongst the masses, sending a message that Americans across the country are no longer willing to be indifferent—despite the black, brown, and LGTBQI people for whom indifference has never been an option. I am unsure if this ironic fallacy, the baneful barricade fences, the hegemonic pulse of the crowd, or the entitlement to the space and experience enjoyed by white bodies throwing elbows while I navigated with the language of apology on my lips were the source of my daymares. Daymares of the type of disaster possible at an event of this stature, where this fallacy is personified, the barricades succeed in trapping the vulnerable, and the unapologetic push you down and walk over you, continuing the cycle of white feminism and thus putting their self interest first. So, after weaving through the crowd, anxieties rising, forced to follow the path forged by a white male CNN reporter claiming medical injury to make way, making demands of the crowd and feminizing the masses without consent, referring to his desperate followers as “lovely ladies,” we were met with relief, and literal and proverbial breathing room on the National Mall. I think it is important to note, that this challenge, this frustration, is simply a reality lacking any airs of newness or surprise, requiring only a well-versed recovery. This was a harkening back to the cries and the valid reticence of my kinfolk, for whom I surveyed the crowd with sparse and sporadic discovery.
This process of recovery required both a nutritional and divine sustenance, as it so often does. Standing in line for food and drink our group was approached by a woman with hair the color of freshly fallen snow and a sash in the style of her suffragette foremothers. She approached in response to a sign provided by NOW that read “Intersectional Feminism.” Without introduction or a how-do-you-do she demanded of our group, most specifically the strong, smart, capable woman holding this sign, to tell her what Intersectional Feminism meant, while mentioning the national women's organization, which she would rather not mention, that is struggling to define and apply the ideas of intersectionality. She said this term catalyzed intra-group debates revolving around putting POC women “at the front” for the first time or working shoulder to shoulder, which perhaps felt radical and new enough. Struck by this abrupt conversation and her desire to troubleshoot we fell silent. A bit bothered but hopeful and wanting of open dialogues and clarity of ideas, I responded, doing my best to succinctly articulate the basic ideas of intersectionality—a definition lacking fluff or excess. Appearing a bit surprised but pleased to get what she came for, brief conversation followed, focusing on but not stating explicitly the problematic nature of allowing women of color to adhere to only one identity and ignoring the others so long ignored by white feminism—thus negating the fundamental ideas of intersectionality.
The day carried forth, with little time to digest or unpack the ever-unfolding events, and the rally transitioned to the march at 1 PM. The march provided more opportunity to breathe, in all senses of the word. It allowed me a more genuine feeling of solidarity, despite the flaws inherent to coalition building. Perhaps it was the effect of a massive crowd in motion, opposing the stifling static nature of the rally, or maybe the prospect of solidarity grew out of recognizing potential. The conflict between protest signage embracing exclusive cis-white rhetoric and the act of resistance in simply showing up left me energized to work harder, make more, and further understand our shared differences through conversation with disenfranchised communities and individuals and those who oppress them.
Anna McNeary (MFA Printmaking 2018)
Amidst conversations on materiality and conceptual exercises, I sometimes forget that printmaking has its roots in the dissemination of information. Through the mechanized transfer of words and images, the print revolutionized mass communication, laying a foundation for the inundation of visual culture that we swim in today. No wonder, then, that printmaking has been embraced as an art for and by the people—it enables the sharing of important pictures and messages that help us do important work.
This sharing was on full display the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, when millions of people around the world expressed their most urgent beliefs in a wave of graphic language. And whether their banners, signs and clothing were painstakingly hand printed or hastily drawn makes no difference. How revealing that when the time comes to rise up and shout our deepest fears and most unwavering beliefs, we innately think to bring our creativity with us as a tool, a weapon, a proclamation of self. We contemplate what the role of the arts will be under a Trump administration, but to me, the homemade color that peppered Women’s Marches across the world signifies something deeper and simpler. It’s a canary in a coalmine. Creative articulation is a natural catharsis that can erupt from anyone when provoked, and it comes forth as a testament to the earnestness and the power behind conviction in those values worth spreading.
Kate Sarrantonio (MFA Printmaking 2018)
I was pressed up against the fence when Trump’s motorcade pulled up to the door of the White House last Saturday and I just knew he heard me screaming fuck you. On an entirely personal level I was grateful for that. When we saw that the number of protesters in DC being compared to the number of supporters at Trump’s inauguration threw him into a flustered tantrum, I felt pleased that I’d had the opportunity to be there.
I’ve had a tough time weighing those moments of relative joy against the feeling that I was struggling to find solidarity with the other marchers for the majority of the day. On the ground, it was a virtual sea of pink hats with pointy pussy ears. The pussyhats were meant to be a unifying symbol of the march and the designers of the hat chose pink in an effort to be unapologetically feminine. It is deeply important to me to be an ally to femme people of all genders, but femininity is not something that is claimed by all women, and it can never be the unifying factor for a women’s movement, much less one that claims to lift up trans and gender non-conforming folks along with them.
I was frustrated that we were finding it difficult to raise energy and get chants going most of the day and much more frustrated that the chants that stuck were mostly things like “pussy grabs back” while the chants of “black lives matter” and “immigrants are welcome here” seemed to fade in and out, giving the sense that those issues were secondary to the primary issue of being a woman. Reproductive rights are a life or death matter right now, especially with threats to the right to abortion. But isn’t also violence against people of color by the police? And the threat of mass deportation and bans on refugees? Aren’t there women who have to be kept alive before we can even know that they could have the chance to have the right to safe abortion? If we were not there in DC to show up and say that we pledge to above all protect the most vulnerable among us right now in this moment, how can we be a true movement against fascism and Trumpism? It’s tempting but not useful to say: Well hey, what did we expect from a resistance march that promotes a pop up shop for commemorative merchandise on their FAQ page? But we have to expect more.
The Women’s March on Washington was yet another reminder to me of the importance of educating as we mobilize. Folks want to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and protest but let’s not allow business as usual and let’s call it out when we see normalization of this administration and of white supremacist values within our own organizing strategies.
Nafis M. White (MFA Printmaking 2018)
Before the March, I spoke to my mother in rural North Carolina, where she is a minister in the Unitarian Universalist faith, and she expressed worry at the prospect of my going to DC. She seemed overwhelmed by the election, saddened by the rise in violence, and was perhaps not quite sure that a march would do much good. It sounded nice to her, but what would be the tangible results? she inquired.
I had reservations, too. I was angry that the Women’s March had appropriated the name Million Women’s March, after a same named event led in 1997 by Black Women, two years after the Million Man March. Also too, that the notion of inclusivity was made void as members of the organization left women of color out of the initial planning and retroactively moved quickly to be politically correct by inviting Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour as co-chairs. This move to me seemed too little too late; it felt dishonest and calculated, asking prominent women of color to round up their supporters to back a movement that hadn’t initially offered them a seat at the table. For me, this spoke deeply and resonated. What is feminism if it doesn’t see or include you?
So why go?
I wanted to see for myself where things were, to bear witness, to see where people who look like me were, if they were there, how they felt, and to experience the event from my unique perspective as a mixed race, melanated, queer as fuck, activist artist.
When I was in the crowd I experienced various degrees of hostility—white women snapping at me about space and order, body checking me with elbows and shoulders without apology, being very clear about their desire for me to respect their space but with a total disregard for mine. When I was marching, I felt tokenized, especially due to the extremely low turnout of women of color, and being in DC, a chocolate city, this was a tremendous disaster for the March. One can hardly fault folks for not supporting though; they weren’t invited at the onset and that was crystalline. I felt as if I was a trophy, validating people as I moved, eyes resting on me, and nods at me as if to say, Look! Black people came! Good!
The March was moving, yes, but not for all the reasons one might think. I was there for my sisterhood, and that was the focus of the hundreds of photographs I made that day. My eyes slowly adjusted from taking photographs of the crowds and documentation of pithy protest signs to portraits of women of color, in their glory, honoring their presence. My labor focused on those who were not originally thought of, invited, or cared for during the event. I wanted to capture their beauty, power, and resiliency as we continue to show up and show out wherever human and civil rights are challenged.