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Young Female Artists Paste Anti Sexual Harassment Messages in Fort Greene

By Danielle Schlanger | June 8, 2014 5:12pm
 The event was held on Sunday, June 8 in Fort Greene Park.
Street Art Used as Tactic In Harassment Fight
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FORT GREENE — Does street art have the potential to end sexual harassment of women?

That's what a group of young women, who participated in a three-hour art workshop in Fort Greene Park, hoped to find out. Connecting their own creativity and the artistic medium, they worked on making visible pieces that would speak out against oppression and violence.

The event, called Girl Power, was hosted by Councilmember Laurie A. Cumbo, in conjunction with artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and non-profit organization Hollaback!

"I felt it was important to create a platform where young women can address the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis through art, which has increasingly become a tool for activism," said Cumbo, according to a release.

Fazlalizadeh is best known for her public art project, "Stop Telling Women To Smile," in which she pasted posters around the city of charcoal sketches of women, accompanied by anti-harassment slogans like, "My outfit is not an invitation" or "Critiques on my body are not welcome."

The street art program was designed to empower young women between the ages of 12 and 17 through dialogue, and to show them how to speak out about harassment using wheat paste on a wall between St. Felix and Fulton Streets in Fort Greene.

“I think that the event is going to be a lot about wheat pasting, and I think that’s what’s important about it,” Fazlalizadeh said before the start of the event. “These girls are going to be taking what they want to say about street harassment and putting it up on the wall.”

Kristia Beaubrun, Council Member Cumbo’s communications director, noted that the goal was to allow young women to feel stronger in the face of harassment. “Women don’t always know how to express themselves and don’t feel as empowered as they normally should,” said Beaubrun. “This is an opportunity to say 'No, [harassment] is not okay.'"

This event combined Cumbo’s commitment to women’s issues and passion for art, Beaubrun added. The council representative for Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, and parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Bed-Stuy, Cumbo also sits as chair on the council's committee on women's issues.

She also happens to have two degrees in the fine arts, having studied Fine Art at Spelman college, and attained a masters in Visual Arts Administration from NYU. (Cumbo was the founder and executive director of MoCADA, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts.)

Emily May, cofounder and executive director of Hollaback!, an international group that combats street violence and sexual harassment in public spaces, expressed her excitement over partnering with Cumbo’s office.

“I think it’s just really inspiring to be working with a councilmember that sees the potential in using art to create social change and engaging young women and girls to create that conversation and make that change,” May said.

Najaya Royal, a 17-year-old student at Benjamin Banneker Academy from East New York, said she felt the tools she was learning about could be effective in speaking out against harassment.

“In my poetry, I normally speak about stuff like this, as well as other political stuff, social events that goes on within my life,” Royal said.

“I feel like this is a good event to shed light on what still goes on.”