Dozens of participants gathered on a crisp Fall afternoon for the Q4 2018 Stitch n Bitch at Queens Museum as part of the S.T.E.P exhibition opening. Feminists across the spectrum laid out a palette of donated women’s underwear on the museum floor in preparation for the latest City of Today for Feminine Urbanism flag. Cunt Quilt (Home) is a house logo with a symbolic “keyhole” opening in place of an inviting door and was co-created by a diverse group of individuals who discussed housing vulnerability from gentrification to globalization. After sharing stories of eviction, homelessness, nuisance abatement and immigration; the group consensus that housing is a basic human right was central to the discussion. Shortly thereafter, an image was formed by critiquing existing logos against the collaborator’s own experiences. Four hours later, a spectrum of vibrant, multi-colored panties were stitched and pinned onto a stained, Queen sized bed sheet to represent the intersectional feminist movement’s fundamental demand: Access to Housing.
Buildings are logos for culture. Returning to it’s origin story at Tomorrowland World’s Fairgrounds in Queens, The City of Today for Feminine Urbanism will be hosting a Stitch n Bitch to address the ongoing housing crisis in its many forms ranging from gentrification to globalization. The Q4 Cunt Quilt will be created in an image central to the immigrant and low-income urban experience: residential vulnerability. Today’s city habitat is a stark contrast from the utopian American Dream vision outlined by The City “documentary” film released at the 1939 World’s Fair. Or is it? An architectural version of Birth of a Nation: the film nostalgically depicts a utopian, suburban neighborhood falling victim to the evils of city life and it’s intersectional threats. Today, these isolated, single family subdivisions have been visually replaced by an equally segregated horizon line of skyscrapers whose sexy silhouettes are a bar graph of economic violence- only a decade after the housing crisis and nearly a century after the Great Depression. At eye level, poor doors and nuisance abatement evictions plague the modern industrial complex with homelessness and decreasing public space. In anticipation of a monumental midterm election, we will turn out and speak up over a public square in the form of a stained, Queen sized bed-sheet.
We will perform our citizenship and discuss ways to decentralize our choir preaching as a survival strategy for the upcoming election during the Stitch n Bitch. Stitch n Bitches are craft salons where all walks of life are welcome to make and celebrate the political heritage of quilts such as Arpilleras Desaparecidos, Railroad Codes, and Concentration Quilts. Feminists including women, men and non-binary individuals gather to maintain citizenship, build consensus and constructively critique. Stitching donated, worn-out women’s underwear onto a Queen-sized bed sheet; participants will quilt politically relevant images in a democratic, crowd-sourced fashion. A protest flag for the City of Today for Feminine Urbanism (Femilia), the Cunt Quilt is born on protester’s backs at marches to demonstrate an intersectional women’s movement. A performance of citizenship in three acts; the Underwear Audit accounts for our bodies, the Stitch n Bitch builds solidarity, and the Cunt Quilt holds our governing bodies accountable. The project will continue until there is a woman in the WhiteHouse.
Queens Museum opening Sunday October 28, 2018 12-6pm
S.T.E.P seeks to be an overlapping convergence and entanglement of walking, walk-based works and programming, mobilizing throughout New York. S.T.E.P embraces the many ways and bodies we walk while asking how walking as a creative act can challenge notions and open conversations around visibility, gender, labor, exploration, counter-mapping, colonialism, feminism, motherhood, contesting borders, community building, calling out gentrification, street harassment, (dis)ability, carbon debt, who sets the pace and measurement of the world, the power of dreams, and our entanglements between all of these and one another.
A womb doesn’t make a woman, but it contracts our rights. This November our equality is hanging by a judicial thread. On 8.25.2018 Stitch n Bitch Choice gathered feminists to explore our access to reproductive freedom. Together we created the Scales of Justice uterus hanger Arpillera through a democratic crowd-sourced process. Pinning down our worn out wares, we deliver the 2018 Q3 Cunt Quilt in anticipation of a pivotal supreme court nomination and midterm elections that will define our generation. Millenials stand up, register to vote, call your representatives and your abuelas!
Soaked, sagged and dragged through a tropical depression; the Cunt Quilt (Bridges Not Walls) joined over 3000 protesters at the March to Keep Families Together in front of the Homestead, FL detention center where hundreds of children are incarcerated after being separated from their parents by ICE at the Mexico/US border. On Saturday, June 23rd @aclufl persevered through a lightning storm (where one organizer was struck). They continued organizing marchers in front of the baby jail, and hosted brilliant speakers through the thunder cracks, under a temporary shelter until dusk. An Indigenous leader recounted his powerful separation story and reminds us that “Protest is a Ceremony”, as we bathed our underwear and ankles in asphalt puddles. After two water logged hours, the Cunt Quilt bridge structure snapped like a bra back. Like our democracy, it must be repaired to survive the daily structural violence this administration is inflicting on children.
This 7 months pregnant anchor baby barreled through the tropical deluge praying for an opening in the clouds. We spent the remaining sunny evening after the march in downtown Homestead at my favorite childhood Mexican restaurant. Although gentrification has begun to creep into a predominantly immigrant farm town, it is good to see vibrant latinx businesses serving their communities and the historic Seminole Theatre finally open. I painted my first public mural on it’s facade in 1996 to stir interest in fundraisers to open the once dilapidated theatre. My childhood identity came full circle when a young latinx theatre worker informed me that Lin Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” (writer of Hamilton) was on view with local performers.
While some women may cringe at the idea of someone handling their dirty knickers, another is on the hunt for them with a new project, aptly named, “Cunt Quilts”.
In December 2016, New York architect-turned-artist, Coralina Meyer, called upon the women of America to send their disused drawers to her. This political call-to-action, named the Old Glory Underwear Audit, is a survey of citizenship in the aftermath of Trump’s election. Working under the name Lambastic, Meyer is curating a series of four “Cunt Quilts” that will piece together underwear from the nation – bodily fluids, stains and wear-and-tear welcome – to create, as she says, “a shameless anecdotal patchwork of the soft, digital self, and the stern body product”.
The first quilt in the project will be put together during a “Stitch ‘n’ Bitch” and is set to be raised before president-elect Donald Trump, as part of the Women’s March on Washington on 21 January – a mass demonstration the day after Trump’s inauguration in the name of women’s rights, with more than 200,000 expected participants. The march will also feature the pink knitted pussyhats of the Pussyhat Project.
Meyer published her call-to-arms on her Facebook page, where she also asked contributors to share anecdotes that consider identity and citizenship. So far, the artist has received 72 pairs.
Speaking to Hyperallergic, Meyer explained: “My artwork is a ménage a trois between public trauma, intimate memory, and consumer history.
“Our generation is uniquely positioned as consumers whose political exhaustion from tactical trauma can be transgressed with matrilineal armor. As an artist, it is my job to make hidden histories accessible. The project has multiple phases: the Underwear Audit accounts for our bodies, the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch airs our grievances, and the Cunt Quilt is an association formed.”
The quilts are part of Meyer’s ongoing project, City of Today for Feminine Urbanism, a dystopian project on identity politics that combines the history of cities with the history of feminism.
Got a spare pair of dirty pants? The project will be ongoing for the next four years – more information here.
When the American artist Betty Tompkins was a senior at Syracuse University in 1966, one of her painting professors asked her what she was going to do after she finished school.
“I’m going to move to New York and be an artist,” Tompkins, now 72, told him.
His reply: “The only way you will make it in New York is on your back.”
“I did graduate school and moved to New York,” said Tompkins, who forgot all about this sexist comment, but it resurfaced in her mind with today’s current climate of sexual harassment allegations in the arts.
“I hope the men who have habitually abused their position of power are nervous,” she said. “I hope they are rethinking how they function in the art world – it is entirely possible they are not.”
Sexual harassment in the art world is nothing new, but since October, a number of cases have brought new visibility to the problem. Most recently, the art collector Steve Wynn – known for spending millions on art, like a $28m Jeff Koons sculpture – resigned as CEO of his casino company after sexual harassment claims surfaced on 7 February. But it’s not only Wynn.
Just as Harvey Weinstein wielded his power as a producer to take advantage of aspiring female actors, it seems those in the seat of power in the art world are no different. The Canadian art collector François Odermatt has been accused of rape by one woman and sexual harassment by 11 others. The rape allegation, which Odermatt denied, was investigated by police and no charges laid. The British gallerist and art collector Anthony d’Offay has been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour from three women and stepped down as curator of Artists Rooms in December. The Los Angeles art dealer Aaron Bondaroff, who co-owns the Moran Bondaroff Gallery, recently resigned after three women accused him of sexual misconduct.
It isn’t just the collectors and curators, it’s also artists like Chuck Close, who is facing allegations from several women who say he made sexual advances and inappropriate comments during their business meetings, and amid these sexual misconduct allegations, the National Gallery of Art in Washington cancelled his forthcoming exhibition. The renowned fashion photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber are accused of sexually abusing male models in cases brought forward in January, which has led to major publications dropping them. A new code of conduct for models and photographers has been released by Condé Nast.
A public letter was published in the Guardian on 30 October by the campaign group We Are Not Surprised under the headline “We’ll stay silent no more over sexual harassment in the art world.” The letter read: “We are not surprised when curators offer exhibitions or support in exchange for sexual favours. We are not surprised when gallerists romanticise, minimise and hide sexually abusive behaviour by artists they represent. We are not surprised when a meeting with a collector or a potential patron becomes a sexual proposition. We are not surprised when we are retaliated against for not complying. Abuse of power comes as no surprise.”
The group, which is founded anonymously, has had artists like Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman sign the letter, among thousands of others. The group wrote a second letter on 8 February, against the publisher of Artforum magazine, Knight Landesman, who is accused of sexual misconduct by several women including Amanda Schmitt, who was photographed by Time magazine as one of “the Silence Breakers”. The group are calling upon artists and art industry workers to boycott the magazine until it removes Landesman as a co-owner and retract the motion to dismiss the lawsuit from Schmitt.
It reads: “We support the recent editorial work of Artforum’s writers and editorial staff; unfortunately, such content appears as little more than a façade of feminist, anti-abuse and anti-racist rhetoric and posturing so long as Artforum’s publishers and lawyers fight to erase Amanda Schmitt and many, many others’ experiences of misogyny, harassment, and abuse of power. We’re tired of the sweet talk and empty politics.”
But moving beyond the public letters, what actually needs to change to move things forward? Alexandra Schwartz, a curator who teaches at Columbia University, was one to sign the initial letter which published in the Guardian.
“The letter is power to the professionalization of women in the arts,” she said. “Every segment in society has been affected by it and there needs to be more of a procedure and protocol in place. There could be some guidelines from the Association of Art Museum Directors to the American Alliance of Museums.”
That procedure could help protect workers in the creative arts in ways they haven’t been before. “When I was in my 20s, in the art world, it was assumed you would run into harassment,” said Schwartz. “The fact that it can change and this assumption you don’t have to deal with unwanted attention, I think that’s incredibly important.”
To feminist artist Judith Bernstein, who has been working in the art world since the 1960s, she says the letter published in the Guardian was a necessary step. “I stand in solidarity with all of the individuals, and in all of the issues brought up in this encompassing letter,” said Bernstein. “I’ve experienced discrimination over the past 50 years of my practice, especially with my sexually and politically charged work. We’ve seen how things have retrogressed from Obama to Trump and this tsunami will have legs only if it continues full speed ahead.”
This solidarity born out of the letter could further help women in the art world. “I’m certain if we continue to support each other, all of us in the arts industry can walk through the thorny path of growing together,” said Natasha Le Tanneur, the founder of an art firm called ArtPaie, “and redefine previously accepted behaviors that can no longer be tolerated.”
Coralina Rodriguez Meyer, a New York artist, stresses that new procedures need to come into place. “One way to move away from supremacy and make the art world a better place is becoming more comfortable with complexity and multiplicity,” said Rodriguez Meyer.
“Intersectional, non-binary thinking and political participation will help viewers, curators, critics, collectors, institutions and the public reflect on their own position within society as more empathic and democratic.”
The structure of leadership in art institutions needs to change, too. “The directors of institutions can hire more diverse and non-traditional staff and assistant curators of major institutions can do more studio visits with artists working outside the Ivy League system and outside the visual standards or popularity contests that benefit their social media feeds,” said Rodriguez Meyer.
As for Tompkins, who now boasts an international art career, she hopes the exposure that the We Are Not Surprised and the #MeToo movements will put an end to all the sexual harassment in the art world – and beyond.
“One of the most positive things to come out of the #MeToo movement is that it gives a framework and a vocabulary to egregious actions that I feel was missing before,” she said. “Many women are now tuned in. That alone is a very positive step.”