January 15, 2015
I wanted my final project during my intersession to address social issues that are relevant to me. My plan was to use an existing advertisement, paint it white, and then add text directly onto it. I decided to return to my initial idea of creating a billboard which advertised compliments that aren’t about physical appearance. I felt this is increasingly necessary especially in this area, given the number of times I was cat called in this neighborhood while I was here. The inspiration for this piece came from a post I read on angryasianfeminist.
I decided to springboard off of this post, and add my own compliments, make it public and add a bit of humor. I brainstormed on compliments for awhile. Some of the rejected included things like “There’s no need for TV when you’re around” and “You’re the reason Kanye has self esteem issues” (I thought that might sound like bullying Kanye, rather than just being like ‘you’re so flawless’). I left two bullet points at the end open so that passersby could add on their own. I noticed that someone added “I LOVE YOU” when I went back to check (ironically on Valentine’s day). It’s a silly addition, not one I would have added, but I like that someone ws inspired enough to participate.
The response online has been incredible. A photographer from the Philadelphia area snapped it and his photo was pretty popular on tumblr, gaining about 4,000 notes (‘notes’ indicate when another blogger has favorited or reblogged the original post/photo). I posted a similar photo and it got about 178,000 notes and counting. Even though this is dry data and doesn’t describe any impact the art may have had on these bloggers, it’s at least an easy way to numerically represent that a large number of people have appreciated the work enough to share it. My friends have even mentioned how they saw pictures of this piece popping up around various corners of the web. Suffice to say, the photo of this piece and its share-ability on the web is more important than the actual piece itself because it was able to reach more people.
Overall, I consider this project a success. I was thrilled by the way the piece came out, inviting humor yet still attempting to challenge serious issues around catcalling. The fact that it went viral is a pretty clear indication that people want to see work that speaks to real issues. I think about that a lot when I think about the success of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh with her “Stop Telling Women to Smile”. Her project was incredible, combining street art and powerful messages about women reclaiming their agency in public spaces. Her work is obviously great, but I think the response to her work is the strength of the project. It felt almost like women had been waiting for someone to say this, so when Tatyana spoke the message people immediately rallied behind the project. I’m not suggesting my piece is anywhere near as good as Tatyana’s campaign, but I think the responses to our messages show how eager people are to see art that addresses these larger social concerns about the treatment of women.