A new art show opening this week is just the sort of hopeful omen we need really, really need right now, just one week before this horror show of an election culminates in Donald Trump’s inauguration, when he’ll make history as the Free World’s very first Twitter Troll in Chief. Nasty Women is proof that, even though we can expect many, many more deeply ignorant, casually misogynist remarks (like the one that inspired this show) to drop like so many pigeon poos from the stratospheric heights of Trump Tower, there are an even greater number of people out there who are refusing to let this stuff slide.
Better yet, it demonstrates just how strong and swift such a response can be. The show pitched itself to would-be participants as “a group exhibition that serves to demonstrate solidarity among artists who identify with being a Nasty Woman in the face of recent and ongoing threats to women’s rights.” When the curators received over 1,000 submissions from over 700 artists, they had to close things down a week early, said project manager Angel Bellaran. “Just in the numbers, that’s showing how freaked out people are.”
The massive participation is also a reflection of the overwhelming sense of shock experienced (or at least witnessed) by many people following Trump’s victory in the presidential race, which co-organizer Roxanne Jackson called a “wakeup call.” Angel seemed to agree, but took another step back. “Complacency is one of the things that’s gotten us to this point,” she said.
Rehashing what’s a done deal will only leave us chasing our own tails, and now that most of us have gotten past the first three stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining) it’s time to clear the fourth one (depression) too. That means accepting our fate, or at the very least that we’ve reached a turning point, beyond which is finding some way to respond. The 1,000 works of art included in Nasty Women show that at least a few of us have already arrived. “I think it just goes to show how necessary it is right now for people to really stand up and represent themselves,” Jessamyn said. “I think art at its essential core is action, and doing this exhibition is an action.”
I could feel that sense of urgency during my visit to her home, on an evening last week when the curators were collecting art work and tying up loose ends before install– the front room had been thrown into the sort of controlled chaos that you rarely see outside of places like restaurant kitchens during a rush. A tangle of women were bustling around the room: arms stretched out over craning necks, hands swapped signed sheets of paper, conversations criss-crossed one another and then combined. Roxanne introduced me to the others, who meanwhile never skipped a beat, and somewhere underneath it all a fluffy dog, on the verge of tangling several legs in his leash, looked up in bewilderment.
When the artist statements first started pouring in, organizer Jessamyn Fiore said, “I realized, there is this shared sense of fear and anger, but also a want to create, and a want to do something.” The curators also see this as their contribution to an opposition movement. “Personally, there was a day of sadness after he was elected,” Jessamyn explained. “Then I had a couple days of reflection, and then I realized that I, personally, had to act and do something.”
While some might feel that the impact of art is more of an indirect one than say, protesting (which all three of the organizers did following the election), that’s not really true for Nasty Women. All of the work on view will be for sale and, at the end of the day, all the proceeds will go directly to benefit Planned Parenthood. The likelihood that everything will sell is pretty high too, considering that each piece is relatively easy to handle (at less than 12 inches long on its largest side) and priced at $100 or less. That might sound a bit restrictive, but submissions were nonetheless open to a variety of works, from sculptural to paintings and video pieces.
The artists, all female-identifying, are equally as varied: they’re residents of both red and blue states, queer, trans, straight, people of color, white, first-timers and “well-known artists whose work sells for a lot of money,” Roxanne explained.
That widespread appeal isn’t so surprising. “I think every woman can relate to that [phrase] in some way, or at least being name-called from a man, especially one who’s ignorant and sexist,” she said. “We’re taking this derogatory term and trying to make it positive with all these women coming together in solidarity.”
Admittedly, unity is something that feminists have had trouble realizing, but shows like this one (which the organizers describe as “a protest”) demonstrate that it’s possible for women of all ages, gender identities, and cultural backgrounds to come together. “Just as much as I’ve been called ‘nasty’ or similar [by men], I’ve been called a ‘nasty piece of work’ by other women I’ve worked with,” Angel said. “[But we’ve been] able to have that solidarity with other female-identifying artists and other cultural backgrounds, race, religion.”
In addition to the visual art work, Knockdown Center has put together Stay Nasty, four days of music and performance programming to run concurrently with the exhibition, during nighttime hours from January 12 to January 15. The lineup for this one, too, is enormous, with familiar names like Aurora Halal, JJ Brine, PRIMA, Deli Girls, Diamond Terrifier, and Genesis P-Orridge.
As if all of this wasn’t already over-the-top, above-and-beyond, the organizers are going even further. To ensure that this won’t be the only Nasty Women show, the organizers have outlined an open-source “platform” that is available for anyone who wants to put together their own version of the show elsewhere. The only caveat is that the spin-offs are required to raise money for women’s non-profit organizations.
Overall, the organizers are optimistic about the momentum that inspired them to put the show together, and that went into creating the work. “This is the start of another, very definite feminist movement,” Jessamyn said.
Angel agreed. “It’s only the beginning,” she said.
“Nasty Women” is on view January 12 through January 15 at Knockdown Center.