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“I hope it gets men’s attention and makes them think twice,” she says. “It’s an exaggeration, but you have to make a statement.”
Tarana Burke launched the #MeToo movement, aimed at stopping sexual violence and supporting survivors, in 2006. It went viral two years ago when a celebrity’s social media post was prompted by the sexual assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The message continues to resonate more than a decade later.
Artists have had plenty of inspiration in recent years, including Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during an October 2016 presidential debate. The remarks inspired two “Nasty Women” exhibits here in Phoenix.
One included a trio of black-and-white portraits by Kathleen M. Payne.
In each photograph, a different woman stands with her right arm reaching forward. On each palm, held up as if to halt an unwanted advance, viewers see a single word or symbol that spells out “# me too” when placed side by side.
Even now, it’s a powerful reminder that artists can foster important conversations about sexual assault in their communities. Several Phoenix artists are creating work focused on empowering women and calling out perpetrators of sexual violence.
Malena Barnhart made a simple yet strong work of art comprising five letters spelling the word “creep” after Christine Blasey Ford brought sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh last September.
Shown at Practical Art, it’s part of a larger body of work exploring gender stereotypes in pop culture.
Barnhart works primarily with children’s stickers, which reflect the stereotypes at play in contemporary society. Stickers marketed for girls are mostly pink and sparkly, with images such as hearts, unicorns, and lipstick.
Barnhart used vinyl lettering for her fall 2018 “He Said/She Said” exhibition to transform a gallery wall at Eye Lounge into a riff on the #MeToo movement. It questions the fact that one man’s denial often trumps the accusations of numerous women.
The piece took aim at several men accused of sexual misconduct, from artist Chuck Close to entertainer Bill Cosby.
“I see my work as pointing,” Barnhart says. “I take something I find upsetting or ridiculous and manipulate it just enough to make people see it.”
She’s also collaborated with Rembrandt Quiballo to make symmetrical, kaleidoscopic images using Kavanaugh’s face, which symbolizes for some the prevalence of perpetrators in positions of power.
She’s now working on something that hits closer to home. After several women accused a local creative of sexual misconduct, Barnhart began work on a new piece she plans to unveil at a Grand Avenue gallery in November.
She’s using white yarn and a blow-up unicorn kiddie pool to reference a ball pit, which also serves to critique Instagram culture and the prevalence of interactive entertainment spaces being billed as art installations.
Samantha Lyn Aasen is scheduled to open a new exhibit at Eye Lounge during October’s Third Friday featuring photographs of sex workers. It’s inspired in part by the #MeToo movement and Aasen’s concerns about sexual assaults occurring in the porn industry.
The #MeToo movement still resonates with Aasen, who offers this perspective: “Art is definitely a tool that can help us elevate the issues, including what’s happening right here in Phoenix.”