Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose work has garnered international attention, returned to Philadelphia, the city that fueled her artistic sensibility and feminism, and ultimately changed the course of her career.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, Fazlalizadeh, 31, came to Philly to attend the University of the Arts, where she spoke to a group of students and artists on Wednesday. Her workshop occurred during Sexual Assault Awareness month and in the middle of Anti-Street Harassment week.
It was in Philly, as she was working on a mural, that she experienced street harassment on the daily. The constant cat calls inspired the Stop Telling Women to Smile project, an art series she began in 2012. She speaks with women who have experienced street harassment and creates a portrait of them, captioning each image with messages directed to offenders, like “Women are not seeking your validation” or “My name is not baby, shorty, sexy, sweetie, honey, pretty, boo, sweetheart, ma.”
She then installs the work on walls, corners and streets for neighborhoods to see.
"Harassing women does not prove your masculinity," said Fazlalizadeh in an interview. "I think it's perpetuated because men are trying to prove something about what they think masculinity is. Challenging sexual harassment also challenges what we think women or men are supposed to be."
Stop Telling Women to Smile began to get national and then international recognition. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, TIME, Huffington Post and The Guardian. She’s traveled to Paris and Mexico interviewing women, drawing and installing their portraits.
“The work has been installed on the walls in cities I’ve never been to,” she said. “It’s been very fulfilling to take something so personal and have it reach people.”
On Friday, Fazlalizadeh takes it a step further, and invites people to take part in International Wheat Pasting Night. Participants are asked to download the Stop Telling Women to Smile portraits from her website (stoptellingwomentosmile.com) to display or install in their own neighborhoods. The goal is to spread the message across the globe.
But Stop Telling Women to Smile isn’t the most recent piece of Fazlalizadeh’s to cause a stir. When Donald Trump was elected in November, she made her feelings public. She created the “America is Black” piece. A compilation of illustrations she made prior to, including one of her mother. The piece reads: “America is black. It is Native. It wears a hijab. It is a Spanish speaking tongue. It is migrant. It is a woman. It is here. Has been here. And it’s not going anywhere.”
My America Is Black mural was taken down in Oklahoma City because, despite having permission to install the work from the building owner, all murals in OKC must go through a proposal process and be approved by the OKC Arts Commission. The OKC Arts Commission has 15 commissioners. 14 of which are white. 11 of which are men. I understand needing permits from the city. I've done murals with only permission from the property owner but, I've also done murals that absolutely needed permits from city. But an approval in OKC, this from their website, "to ensure aesthetic quality, design integrity and to determine that a mural is appropriate to its setting, architecture, and social context" from a group of commissioners that is almost completely white men is bullshit. My mural is 100% not for them. I'm going to submit a proposal. For this mural, and for another mural project I want to develop in OKC. But I'm already discouraged based on that group of commissioners, being a black woman artist, and who/what my art represents. This is why "diversity" is not only important in the work and faces we get to see - it needs to be behind the scenes. Who is in the room making the decisions. Who is deciding what is a "quality aesthetic". And because I know this, it is why taking public space is important for me. Why a lot of the public art I've done has been without permission. It's why work like @stoptellingwomentosmile is more than just putting up a pretty picture on an outdoor wall. It's about physically and metaphorically, as a woman, Taking. Space. Because I don't want to ask white men for permission for anything.
A post shared by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (@tlynnfaz) on
She made the first installation in her hometown of Oklahoma City as a message to Trump and his supporters. She plans to expand and install the piece in different cities.
“Art has a very particular advantage of being visible, urgent and there’s an immediacy to it,” she said. “More than any other medium does. I try to take advantage of visual art and using my art to propel ideas and thoughts. [Artists] would be missing a great opportunity to do so if we don't. If you think of all the movements throughout history there's always an image to it.”