Tatyana Fazlalizadeh talks about her book and works in a webinar last week.
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts – Telling a woman to smile is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to street harassment.
Author and artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh described her experience with street harassment and the process that followed the creation of “Stop Telling Women Smiling: Stories of Street Harassment and How We Take Back Our Power” in a weekly webinar last.
This was the third installment of the Berkshire Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force’s annual ‘One Book, One Community’ event. About two dozen groups from Berkshire County first participated in a community-wide reading of the book and Fazlalizadeh’s works were on display in several locations across the county ahead of the virtual presentation.
Fazlalizadeh is a black and Iranian visual artist based in Brooklyn, NY. She is a painter whose work ranges from galleries to streets around the world and has been profiled by publications such as the New York Times and Time Magazine.
“Stop Telling Women to Smile” – her first book – was released in February 2020 and uses visual arts and storytelling to address the daily oppressive experiences of marginalized people.
Fazlalizadeh grew up in Oklahoma City, which she believes is important in understanding who she is because growing up in this environment with her racial makeup informs her work.
“It’s something that I carry with me, it’s not something that never leaves me. It’s important too, because it created the kind of circumstance for who I am as a person. a lot of my work starts with me, starts with my personal story, my personal experience, ”she said.“ And so knowing that I was a little black girl in the middle of America, in Oklahoma , which is a very, you know, racist place, is important to note. “
Her upbringing also included a keen awareness of the body she occupied, which matured at a young age. Fazlalizadeh has been the victim of harassment in the form of comments and questions about his body from peers and adults. It made her realize that her body was “ready to be consumed,” she said, that it was going to be examined and that it was going to be sexualized, whether she liked it or not.
At 17, Fazlalizadeh moved to Philadelphia to become an artist and began to experience street harassment. The mixture of learning to perfect her craft and the influx of harassment was the first step in her journey that led to “Stop telling women to smile”.
“When I moved to Philadelphia, I was an art student, I was studying art, so there were several things going on: I was learning to do art, I was learning to be a good artist, I was learning how to do art. ‘was learning to use my skills, using my talent to develop those talents, and I was also experiencing a lot of sexual harassment, ”she explained.
“I was also starting to come into my adulthood in a way that I became aware of things going on around me in a way that I could better express it. So I live racism, I live sexism in my life, in a real, very everyday way, and at the same time, I become an artist, so I learn to express these experiences, and I learn to talk about these experiences of ‘in an eloquent, direct way. “
Once in particular, Fazlalizadeh was harassed while working as a muralist and was dismayed that this would happen even while doing manual labor. This led to the realization that her work didn’t need to be in galleries, it had to be on the street where the harassment was happening.
That’s for several reasons, she said, one being that it was a way to safely respond to stalkers without the threat of violence.
“There have been a lot of times I have started cursing games with men on the street after I answer them and they continue to verbally abuse me,” she said. “There were many times when I was afraid of being physically injured, there were times when I was physically beaten and assaulted in the street. And how can I take my works of art and use them to quickly come back to them, knowing that the streets are not a safe environment for me and for many other women? “
To create the pieces, Fazlalizadeh talks with those who bring him experiences of street harassment, then creates a black and white portrait that will be accompanied by a sentence based on their experience.
“It starts with a conversation, I don’t know their experiences, I don’t know who these people are… I usually meet people for the first time, so I spoke with them, and I asked them,” What are your experiences? ”She said.
“And so we have these really big conversations, very frank conversations, it’s very open conversations discussing these experiences of people, from there I take their pictures. I draw their portraits from these photographs and then we create these posters. And the posters are generally texts from these interviews. “
Fazlalizadeh prioritizes internationality in his project, which is the framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege.
Suzanne of Oakland.
“I’m talking about race here, because the way certain clothes and appearances are judged on young black and brunette women is different from how the same clothes and styles are seen when worn by young white women. “she said. “It comes up regularly in my conversations with teenage girls who have consistently noticed that, for example, a black or Latina girl with colored hair, short shorts and tattoos will be treated very differently from how a white counterpart with the same style is treated. ..
“Historically, white American society has proceeded as black and brunette girls are more sexually available than white girls, that they deserve less respect, that they can be approached aggressively. So I think that was an important point about racing. “
Some of the people featured in “Stop Telling Women to Smile” include Suzanne from Oakland, Calif., Whose portrait reads: “I’m not your geisha, porcelain doll, Asian fetish” and a transsexual woman. black woman from Brooklyn named Olympia whose portrait reads: “My femininity is not up for debate.”
At first, “stop telling women to smile” was not the slogan of this project. Fazlalizadeh said this phrase has caught on because telling a woman to smile seems like a very small and meaningless thing that is normalized and that may not be considered harassment, but is, in fact, harmful.
Fazlalizadeh said she is constantly learning the evolution of the definition of sexual harassment, which can range from telling a woman to smile to physical assault. She understands that these are unwanted comments, staring, and any type of outward behavior that is sexual and unwanted in nature.
By creating this work, she is trying to change the culture around harassment rather than making policy. Fazlalizadeh hopes to see a future where men do not ‘yell’ at women on the streets, she and her peers can walk out of their homes knowing they will be safe, women can dress as they wish without fear. harassment, and where people can live freely without gender construction.
Fazlalizadeh said spectator intervention is an important element in understanding and rejecting street harassment. Calling on local authorities, having a sense of community and educating straight men of cis gender are steps she says can be taken to mitigate this type of abuse.
“When I started this project, I wanted to tell my story, I never necessarily intended to travel with it, to allow myself to stretch out to be as tall as she is,” he said. she declared. “Setting it up in different cities around the world has shown me how much of a problem it is for one and two, how many people are willing to do it, go out and use artwork to answer it. and to challenge. “