TAKE BACK THE FIGHT: RESISTING SEXUAL VIOLENCE FROM THE GROUND UP

INTERFERENCE ARCHIVE | JUNE 1–SEPTEMBER 3, 2017

Before the annus horribilis of the election of 2016, Rebecca Solnit described 2014 as a year of “feminist insurrection against male violence.”1 Within this spirit, Louise Barry, Rachel Corbman, Melissa Forbis, Lani Hanna, and Monica Johnson mounted this historical overview of artist’s resistance against sexual violence. Three recent events related to sexual assault prompted the exhibition: the powerful open letter by “Emily Doe,” published on Buzzfeed on June 3, 2016 in response to the egregious leniency shown to her rapist the Stanford University champion swimmer, Brock Turner; the Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) (2014–15) of Columbia University undergraduate Emma Sulkowicz in response to the University’s “mishandling of her sexual assault complaint;” and the release on October 7, 2016 of the nauseating 2005 Donald Trump/Access Hollywood tape where he and Billy Bush chuckle as Trump describes how “I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” ending with the infamous “Grab them by the p---y.…You can do anything.”2

Cover of Black Woman’s Manifesto, New York: Third World Women's Alliance, ca. 1970-75.

Take Back the Fight draws from the rich collection of second-wave 1970s and 1980s feminist art found in the Interference Archive (discussed in The Brooklyn Rail, “In the Archives of Interference,” 20123) in collaboration with the Herstory Archives. The curators integrate archival and artistic material with works by contemporary artists and activists in an effort to reveal the continuity of the struggle and to provide the collective fight against sexual violence with new stimuli.

Rape as the epitome of sexual violence is a sexual crime “in concert with oppression in the workforce, at home, and in medical and academic institutions.” 4 It is also aligned with power dynamics of “structural racism, homophobia, transphobia, and capitalism” and the history of the feminist anti-pornography “Sex Wars” of the 1970s.5 The range and variety of the works exhibited mirror this broad viewpoint and include an extensive selection of posters, manifestos (notably, a striking edition of Valerie Solanas’s S.C.U.M. Manifesto, London: Phoenix Press, 1992), pamphlets, zines, newspapers, booklets, and screen prints. One of the strengths of the exhibition is the inclusion of rare objects, such as the record album Free to Fight by Candy Ass Records (1995), with contributions by multiple all-women bands, such as The Third Sex and Fifth Column, in which all tracks are related to sexual violence or women’s self-defense.

Arrancar la violencia de raíz, cosechar más latidos, screen print by Mujeres Grabando Resistencias (translation: Rip out the violence by the roots, harvest more beats), 2014.

Apart from political and social significance, the aesthetic impact is an essential aspect of the show, reminding us of the transformative or recuperative role that art can play. For example, the linoleum prints from the art collective Mujeres Grabando Resistencias [Women Engraving Resistance], who began the #VivasNosQueremos [We Want Us Alive] street arts campaign, or the cover of Black Woman’s Manifesto (2014), depicting a silhouette portrait, are a few of the more remarkable examples in which the energy of defiance has given rise to the transcendent images of a new self-definition

The international scope of the exhibition represents a large-scale political awakening that has developed, broadened, and deepened over many years, to the extent that ideas that were not only unwelcome in the dominant culture as recently as the mid-1970s and in the heart of the “first world,” inspire passionate international responses. The #VivasNosQueremos platform came to life in 2014 in reaction to the many, often unpunished, feminicides in Latin America and the need for each government to acknowledge the problem as a state issue, as an epidemic, and as a systemic mode of violence rather than private and individual crimes. Recently, the awareness of and resistance against sexual violence has greatly increased. Activists, such as the contemporary Mexican collective Bordamos Feminicidios, whose embroidery work depicts the rise of feminicide in Mexico while asserting the importance of networks of living women in support of those who have been killed, have been protesting and organizing.

Among other contemporary works, one can also view fragments of the collective Monument Quilt, an ongoing compilation of stories by survivors of rape and abuse, and the as-yet incomplete group effort by Harriet’s Apothecary, an intergenerational healing village, consisting of a deck of cards based on their project, “365 Days of Affirming Black Life and Amplifying Black Love,” which will be installed in the gallery when it is complete.

When Solnit called out to us in 2014, we imagined that by 2017 the insurrectionist Zeitgeist she described would be an everyday part of the national political arena. If the shock of the depressing=current political panorama is ubiquitous, efforts such as Take Back the Fight are a healing and welcome reminder of what art can do as a sustained act of feminist defiance.

Notes

  1. Rebecca Solnit, “Listen up, women are telling their story now,” The Guardian (December 30, 2014). http://www.theguardian.com/news/2014/dec/30/-sp-rebecca-solnit-listen-up-women-are-telling-their-story-now
  2. Aaron Blake, “An unlikely Bush finally did some damage to Donald Trump: Billy Bush,” The Washington Post (7 October 2016).
  3. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/07/the-bush-family-finally-does-some-damage-to-donald-trumps-campaign-via-an-unlikely-bush Eleanor J. Bader, “In the Archives of Interference,” The Brooklyn Rail (October 4, 2012). http://brooklynrail.org/2012/10/local/in-the-archives-of-interference
  4. Press release for Take Back the Fight: Resisting Sexual Violence from the Ground Up (June 2017). http://interferencearchive.org/take-back-the-fight
  5. Ibid.

Contributor

Laura Hatry

Laura Hatry received her PhD from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Hispanic Studies and is enrolled in the MA program in Contemporary Art History and Visual Culture at Museo Reina Sofía.

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