It was an unusually warm Sunday in March. As I waited for Tatyana to let me into her studio, I shrugged off my winter coat and wrapped it tightly around my waist. Squinting into the sun, I turned away from her building, and then back towards it. I folded and unfolded my arms. I took out my phone and then quickly put it back into my pocket. Tatyana had come to my school only a few years before, and I had been blown away by her tenacity, wisdom, and activism. Back then, I had been too nervous to ask a question after her talk. And yet now, here I was, still nervous, and preparing to be interviewed for her art series, Stop Telling Women to Smile.
Stop Telling Women to Smile is "an art series by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Her work attempts to address gender based street harassment by placing drawn portraits of women, composed with captions that speak directly to offenders, outside in public spaces. STWTS was born out of the idea that street art can be an impactful tool for tackling street harassment. The project takes women’s voices, and faces, and puts them in the street - creating a bold presence for women in an environment where they are so often made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe."
We talked for around an hour. What initially started as a question and answer format quickly turned into open, honest, and vulnerable conversation. When discussing my own experiences with street harassment, and sexism in general, I found that I had so much to say. It all came pouring out: the way that I've taught myself not to make eye contact with men in public for fear of being cat called; how often my body has been commented on; and how, sadly, on some occasions, I've chosen to ignore sexism rather than fight it because I simply didn't have the emotional capacity to argue. After our session, Tatyana took my photo. I remember her looking at her camera and saying, "I'm excited to work on this," and I felt the exact same way.
Stop Telling Women to Smile is one of the most powerful projects I've ever had the honor of participating in. It's sparking conversation. It's making people uncomfortable and changing how they see the world they live in. It's giving a space and platform to what so many choose to ignore.
When I interviewed with Tatyana, I had no idea that she would turn my image into a large-scale mural. When she emailed me the photos, I was completely floored. My image would now contribute to the larger, more important conversation surrounding sexism and gender based harassment. When I told my ride or die, Shenel, about the mural, she immediately went to go see it in person. She told me that the folks who own the building, Electropositive Space, are hosting a few talks about the art. And they told her that the mural was famous within a 5 block radius. It's serving as a conversation starter. For someone, it may be the first time they've ever talked about sexism. And that's so powerful.
And, if you're able to support with a monetary donation, consider purchasing a shirt or print!
The mural can be found at 639 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY