Art’s power to provoke social change

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Northeastern’s new artist-in-residence, plans to turn campus into a temporary hub for artistic activism. From Monday, Oct. 6 to Wednesday, Oct. 8, the Brooklyn-based artist will lead class discussions, wheat-pasting expeditions, and interdisciplinary dialogues on sexual harassment and the power of art to provoke social change.

Fazlalizadeh’s residency is the result of a collaboration between the Northeastern Center for the Arts, which is housed in the College of Arts, Media, and Design, and the university’s new Public Art Initiative, which aims to provide a platform for artists to test their creative limits.

“We have found that students identify with Tatyana’s work,” said Bree Edwards, the director of the Northeastern Center for the Arts. “The center’s mission—‘Creativity, Design, Action’—aligns well with her public art series and we are honored to host her residency.”

In the fall of 2012, Fazlalizadeh launched a public art campaign aimed at addressing gender-based street harassment. First, she interviewed her friends and sketched their portraits, asking them how catcalls from strangers in the street have affected their lives. Then, she created a poster based on each interview, combining their portrait with a caption inspired by their conversation. Finally, she pasted the artwork in public spaces in the New York City neighborhoods where her subjects live. The anti-harassment slogans spoke directly to the offenders, ranging from provocative phrases like “I am not public space” to “My outfit is not an invitation.” The campaign, titled “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” is named for a self-portrait of Fazlalizadeh with the eponymous message emblazoned in thick, black lettering.

Over the past two years, Fazlalizadeh has turned her citywide campaign into a global phenomenon. She has discussed street harassment with women in more than a dozen cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, and Mexico City, and created a score of posters based on their experiences.

“I started the project because I wanted to talk about my experiences with street harassment,” said Fazlalizadeh, in a video about the campaign. “It was my way of speaking back to my harassers—guys who say things to me on the street that are unwelcome, unwanted, aggressive, assertive, and really make you feel uncomfortable.”

Fazlalizadeh’s three-day residency will begin in earnest on Tuesday, Oct. 7, when she will lead students in two sections of a media, culture, and society course on a pair of wheat-pasting expeditions. The first wheat-pasting project will take place on the Forsyth Street side of Nightingale Hall, where the students will apply several portraits from Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” series, including one whose caption reads, “My name is not baby, shorty, sexy, sweetie, honey, pretty, boo, sweetheart, ma.” The second project will take place on the façade of the Latino/a Student Cultural Center, where the students will install a large portrait of a Latina woman bearing the phrase “No me llamo mamacita.”

The anti-harassment slogans emblazoned on Fazlalizadeh's posters speak directly to the offenders.

The anti-harassment slogans emblazoned on Fazlalizadeh’s posters speak directly to the offenders.

Northeastern will host a block party on Centennial Common on Tuesday from 2-5 p.m. to celebrate women, diversity, and activist art. The three-hour event will feature live performances, information booths, and free stuff, including wristbands emblazoned with the phrase “#NURespect.” The information booths, manned by student and alumni representatives, will include pamphlets on nonprofit empowerment groups like Girls’ LEAP and campus resources like Northeastern’s Violence Support, Intervention, and Outreach Network.

Acting Out, the Northeastern theater group dedicated to social change, wrote scripts for bystander intervention skits that will be performed by theater students at the block party. The sketches, aided by the group’s collaboration with the anti-harassment group Hollaback!, will focus on the four Ds of bystander intervention—direct, distract, delegate, and delay.

The block party will be followed by a panel discussion on public art and public policy, which will be held in 240 Dockser Hall at 5:30 p.m. The participants—Fazlalizadeh; Aziza Ahmed, an associate professor of law; Greg Goodale, the associate dean of CAMD and an assistant professor of communication studies; and Martha Davis, professor of law and the faculty director of the NuLawLab;—will discuss Title IX and the Clery Act, a federal law requiring colleges and universities to disclose campus crime statistics.

On Wednesday, Oct.8, Fazlalizadeh will discuss race, gender, and art activism with students in three courses. In the morning, she will visit the communication and inclusion course taught by Sarah Jackson, an assistant professor of communication studies whose research focuses on how social and political identities are constructed in the public sphere. In the afternoon, she will visit a class comprising students in Goodale’s social movement communications course and assistant professor of contemporary art history Gloria Sutton’s art history seminar.

Jackson and Goodale worked to bring Fazlalizadeh to campus, telling Edwards that her street art aligned with the communication studies program’s focus on advocacy. “We thought our students would be very interested in the role art can play in issues surrounding social change,” Jackson said. “Northeastern is at the forefront of finding solutions to these issues.”