Nasty Women from every corner of the country and the world will flock to Queens this January for the inaugural NASTY WOMEN Exhibition. The event, coordinated by co-directors Roxanne Jackson and Jessamyn Fiore, along with web designer Barbara Smith and curatorial advisor Angel Bellaran, aims to be the thinking-woman’s answer to prevailing post-election anxiety. It is a crowd-sourced, group show of female and female-identifying artists of all ages, races, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, gender identifications, and backgrounds. Running from January 12 to 15 at The Knockdown Center, the show will exhibit affordable works ranging from $10 to $100, and 100% of the sales benefit Planned Parenthood.
A grassroots, open call for artworks returned over 1000 submissions from no less than 694 artists, forcing the organizers to close submissions earlier than expected. The works culled from this call are exactly what the show’s moniker decrees, namely a cross-section of furiously creative women expressing themselves and their outrage through colorful performance art, body-positive watercolors, and—unsurprisingly—panties quilted from cat food labels.
The works will ultimately be displayed on the show’s centerpiece: 12-foot-tall letters armored in flamingo pink plastic mesh spelling out N-A-S-T-Y W-O-M-E-N — or as Jackson describes it, a “provocative installation plan” which mounts “a declaration of protest.”
The immediate and enthusiastic feedback to this first NASTY WOMEN Exhibition has led to an outcropping of sister exhibitions in different cities across the globe. So far, this list of iterations ranges from Nashville, Lexington, Portland, and Omaha to Brussels and Melbourne, with more than a dozen locales in between. While these exhibitions will be linked ephemerally by social media and press, Jackson and Fiore are encouraging organizers to “bring their own spirit” to the shows, which includes supporting whatever women’s rights organization or nonprofit they see fit.
As the dates of both the inauguration and the inaugural NASTY WOMEN Exhibition rapidly approach, The Creators Project talks with co-directors Roxanne Jackson and Jessamyn Fiore about the show’s genesis and how to “DO SOMETHING” in the face of an impending Trump Presidency:
The Creators Project: How did this project come to be?
Jackson: Early one Monday morning, barely able to acknowledge the new day, I was drinking a cup of coffee, checking my email and Facebook while listening to NPR. I was so distraught about the impending doom of a Trump presidency and still in a state of shock… How did this happen?! How did we get here?! And where the HELL are we going?!
I had the spontaneous idea of getting women together to put on a NASTY WOMEN exhibition. Having marched to Trump Tower the weekend prior with [Jessamyn, Angel, and] thousands of other angry protesters, I felt emboldened and even empowered by the shared rage of my fellow strangers, united with the recent election and upheaval. On Facebook [on November 14,] I posted, “Hello female artists/curators! let’s organize a NASTY WOMEN group show!!! Who's interested??? We need a venue!!!!!” This post went viral, and within minutes, this nascent idea began to manifest into something more tangible.
What are your objectives for this show?
Jackson: In addition to the fundraising component of this project, I’m excited about this art exhibition as a form of protest. In an effort to be as inclusive as possible, we are accepting all submitted artwork for this show, regardless of content, as we are focusing on the solidarity of women coming together to object the Trump regime, rather than curating a more typical exhibition.
Fiore: But I have realized it is more than just its physical iteration: it is also about creating real-life connections. Like me, like many others, the women who are participating in this exhibition want to DO SOMETHING—and artists make their voice heard through their work. Art is an action.
What is the status of these objectives post-election?
Jackson: In general, I think dealing with abjection is one of the most powerful and effective roles of contemporary artists; and, with the current political climate this seems even more relevant. Transgressive work is a more accurate expression from a culture that has been engaged in war as long as we can remember, one that has a severely unequal stratification of wealth, a culture that disproportionately locks up poor minority groups for maximum sentences (while the same crimes from white offenders are penalized with rehab), religious groups that denounce science and inspire their congregation with fear and hate, not love and tolerance. In this polarizing climate, abject work is relevant. Its holds a space and gives us permission to be outraged, to feel deep emotion, and to express vulnerability. To cry out. And, ultimately to unite and stand against oppressors as humans have always done.
Fiore: It sometimes feel a bit like suspended animation, because we know some terrible things are coming, but the question is what to do to prepare? Protesting, organizing, all of this is important. I think right now for me it is about actively creating connections, creating solidarity in the real world (not just online), finding your allies, finding your collective strength and voice, so that when the blows do start coming we have a solid base from which to respond.
Explain to me the ‘business model’ of the exhibition.
Fiore: For The Knockdown Center NASTY WOMEN Exhibition we have asked all the artists submitting works to price them at $100 or less. We want low prices because I think it’s important that the works are very affordable so anyone can buy them. I want audience members who have never bought a work of art before to come to the exhibition and be moved by the experience and fall in love with a piece and think “$30, yeah I can afford that, and I’m helping Planned Parenthood!”
Jackson: I would like to add that this will be a “cash and carry” exhibition—meaning that people who purchase works will be able to walk away with them, as opposed to waiting until the end of the show. This approach will also provide a dramatic visual, as the letters initially teeming with works will dwindle down, a testament to the funds raised for Planned Parenthood.
What have you learned or what has surprised you in the time after launching the idea for the exhibition?
Fiore: I thought when we first started this that most of the submissions would be from the NYC area. I was so wrong. [...] I have been surprised by how wide this has reached, and deeply humbled really. Living in New York, we are often accused, perhaps justly, of living in a bubble. But the reaction this has received and the connection I feel with so many of artists who have submitted their work from places I have never been to, who have had life experiences so different from my own, and here they are eloquently expressing the same fear and anger and hope that I myself am experiencing...this is so powerful.
Jackson: I see this once nascent idea evolving into real potential for change at a grassroots level. This movement emerged from frustration and helplessness; this dark place of despair bringing into being something hopeful. A contemporary phoenix rising from the extreme, conservative ashes of this collective nightmare (and looking to kick some yokel ass).
Do you think that events such as these, and organizing in general, have gained significance since the election?
Fiore: Absolutely [...]. I don’t have the answers or the plan for what needs to happen going forward, but I do know I will not achieve or learn anything new in isolation. Art brings people together, it creates connection, it creates dialogue, it is ever-present and essential, it challenges, and from this challenge, we learn to think in new ways. And so its role is fundamental in creating the base we need to survive whatever comes next.
Jackson: [We] have transcended coming from a place of defeat to one of empowerment. This movement has given us purpose and direction and way to channel this angst into something productive.
, Sisters, 2016, 9x12”, linocut print on handpulledpaper, Oakland, CA
For more information on the inaugural Nasty Women Exhibition, running January 12 to 15 at Queens’ Knockdown Center, or to launch your own iteration of the event, click here.