Why Are Female Street Artists Under-Represented at the Bowery Houston Wall? [OP-ED]

Posted on: June 5th, 2017 at 5:15 am by

At the Bowery Wall, July 2008

The following opinion piece was written by street artist activist Ann Lewis.

Since 2008, Goldman Properties has curated, funded, and promoted nearly 20 murals on the Bowery Houston Wall to honor the memory of Keith Haring, who first painted the original concrete slab in 1984.

In that time, 21 artists have been honored with this incredible opportunity.

Guess how many of those artists have been women?

Three. Three whole women. That’s less than 15%. To put it into perspective, that’s actually less than the average percentage of solo exhibitions of women’s work at all of the major modern/contemporary NYC art museums from 2007-2014. We all know from the Guerrilla Girls work that these institutions don’t have exemplary records on gender equality. Don’t get me started on transgender or nonbinary artists, because, well, there’s simply nothing to say. Zero artists of that demographic have been given the career-changing opportunity to paint the Bowery Houston Wall.

We all know sexism is a thing; like a real thing; like an inherent bias thing. But really? This is public art in New York City and Goldman Properties is run by a woman. I expect more from Jessica Goldman. Not only because she is a woman in a position of power in the art world, but because this is the statement the organization stands by:

With each rebirth the wall’s program will broaden and reach out further to include established and emerging street artists from the United States and around the world who have a powerful message of hope, possibility and inspiration to young and old.

There are nods to inclusivity and hope within this statement. What do we say to our daughters, our transgender children, our students? Is there really a message of hope and possibility for them on this wall when we only see men painting it? The community deserves to see at least 50% of the artists on this wall be female or transgender. They deserve to see more artists of color (less than half of the artists have been people of color). It’s a public wall; it should, therefore, reflect the demographic of the public. And dare I say it should also present more challenging subject matter.

It’s 2017, and Grabber-in-Chief Trump is our president. Are we really sitting by and allowing our public art to pretend as though things are just fine the way they are? Shall we pretend that we’re not all screaming on the inside? Shall we pretend that the artist who has most recently finished the wall is not a self-proclaimed rapist?

I can’t pretend. I can’t look the other way when a self-professed rapist (as per Buzzfeed and xoJane) gets an opportunity and a woman doesn’t. I refuse to accept a rape apologist’s stammers about lockerroom talk when defending our current president, and I further refuse to stay silent when someone like David Choe is given such an opportunity. In 2014, Choe boldly described in graphic detail on his podcast horrific acts he allegedly did to his female masseuse. He later backpedaled by claiming stories on the show were just that, and “not a representation of my reality,” which is unbelievable at best and horrendously callous regardless of his truth. This man does not belong on the Bowery Houston Wall as an artist, he belongs in prison with rapists. It is deeply troubling to see a woman of such power like Goldman celebrate a man who has allegedly exerted his nefarious power over women without consent. Do we really still need to have this conversation in 2017? Apparently the dead horse still needs beating.

With all that said, I hope Goldman Properties re-evaluates their selection process of the artists with whom they work, and what they offer to the public. This is an amazing opportunity to truly honor the community in its most incredible and diverse beauty, so they should seize it. If perhaps, they need some suggestions of powerful women artists who belong on that wall, they can give me a call. I’ve got binders full.

But here’s a short list to get started:

Nina Chanel Abney
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Faith 47
Shamsia Hassani
Guerrilla Girls
Jess X Chen

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