Protesting Trump: One Woman Who’s Grabbing Her Pussy Back

“Take your broken heart and make it into art.”

When Meryl Streep quoted those words from Carrie Fisher, she was talking about the responsibility of artists to respond to the political turmoil of the last few months and the uncertainty of the next four years.

Artists and satirists have reacted to the central figure of this turmoil in a variety of ways, most famously Alec Baldwin in SNL sketches. Illma Gore’s painting, Make America Great Again, gained viral status for the raw and humiliating depiction of its nude subject. A similar image, this time depicted in sculpture by the anonymous anarchist street art collective, Indecline, titled The Emperor Has No Balls appeared overnight in cities all across America including New York, San Francisco and Seattle. The works were quickly cleared away but not before their image was shared, tweeted, and blogged about online.

But reacting to the sociological discord that led to the results of the US election seems to be a more complex undertaking. Over a hundred and thirty artists have petitioned to close museums, galleries, concert halls, art schools, and nonprofit institutions entirely on Inauguration day in an act of protest as part of the ‘J20 Art Strike’.

Although this may appear self-defeating, as if the artists are giving up or participating in self-censorship, it is described in a statement as “an invitation to motivate these activities anew, to reimagine these spaces as places where resistant forms of thinking, seeing, feeling and acting can be produced.” So perhaps this protest is more about giving artists the time to shut down and meditate on the issue, retreating, like a yogi, to search inside themselves for a new approach to their art.

“Right now it is an important time for women to demonstrate solidarity in face of the threats"

On the other side of the spectrum, The Untitled Space gallery in New York is already reacting with a new exhibition curated by Indira Cesarine, UPRISE / ANGRY WOMEN. The show is presented in partnership with the ERA COALITION, a political organisation that is working to support Women’s Equality, and features a collection of work responding to the current social and political climate in America.

In the words of the curator: “Right now it is an important time for women to demonstrate solidarity in face of the threats upon us in regards to women's rights. The 2016 presidential election has brought to the surface extremes of sexism, racism, and discrimination. Many women are deeply disturbed not only by the negative stereotyping and sexist attitudes towards women that have surfaced but also the threats to roll back women's rights. The “UPRISE / ANGRY WOMEN” exhibit gives female artists a means to express themselves in regards to the social and political climate in America, and empower others with their visual imagery.” 

Offering the only European response in the exhibition is London-based artist Daniela Raytchev. A passionate advocate of raising awareness about mental health issues, Raytchev studied at the prestigious Central St. Martins College of Art and Design and the London College of Fashion, and is a devoted observer of the human condition. She became involved in UPRISE / ANGRY WOMEN when she saw “the open call for the exhibition and felt instantly connected to it” and explained how the “curator, Indira Cesarine, managed to very accurately capture the frustration and discomfort I have been feeling”.

Raytchev talked of having been asked for access to her hotel room by a male curator in the past in return for exhibiting her work, adding “I am seen as a woman before I am seen as an artist or anything else.” These personal experiences, as well as recent political events, led to the conception of her piece ‘Liberty’.

‘Liberty’ is a protest piece.

It is a protest against the President-elect, the inauguration, the post-election political climate in America, discrimination, anti-migrant sentiment, and sexism. It is a piece the challenges objectification, depersonalisation, and the dehumanisation of women on a global scale. Raytchev explains that “the inspiration came from personal experience and wanting to glorify the female form and question the paradoxes within our society”

In a sculpture that is simple yet evocative, Raytchev has created a bust of the Statue of Liberty, which brings with it all the iconic themes of strength, freedom, and the empowerment of women, then the artist calls all of this into question by taking away the face: “The piece replaces her face with her vagina, stripping her of powers of speech and sight, as though she is just a vagina, and her gender dictates her personality.”

It “speaks of the European reaction of shock to recent politics. Shock that we still live in a world where a phrase as misogynistic and degrading as ‘grab her by the pussy’ can meet with such loud applause.”

‘Liberty’ is disconcerting and uncomfortable but it is powerful.

Playing with the deepest sense of misogynist erotophobia, Raytchev invokes a common science fiction and horror trope of ‘the beast without a face’ and gives the fear of womanhood a disturbing and potent form. The sculpture is silent and sinister. She explains that “I chose the Statue of Liberty and female genitals to contrast and show the discrepancies between the values we would like to attain and even believe we live up to and the reality of the female position in the society.” In doing so she reduces her subject to nothing more than a pussy to be grabbed.

 “The artwork is a metaphor for bringing the power back to women"

The vulgarity of the piece echoes the recent crude nadir of debates in which they have become nothing more than a forum for discussing the size and shape of the prospective President’s genitalia or his sexual peculiarities. It is a shocking and offensive level of discussion that can only be controlled by those who are comfortable standing up in a crowded room and shouting about the size of their cock.

“The artwork is a metaphor for bringing the power back to women, crowning the part of our body that defines our gender, with a symbol inspiring contemplation, debate and a protest of ideals such as democracy, liberty, peace, human rights and opportunity.” With this piece, Raytchev wrenches the megaphone from the tiny hands of those who would seek to control the room.

In essence, Raytchev is one woman who’s grabbing her pussy back.

‘Liberty’ is not just about mocking an American icon, although this is certainly an element of it, it is about grabbing freedom from those who have hijacked the conversation. As Indira Cesarine puts it; “Right now more than ever women need to unify and work together to ensure that our rights, which were fought for with blood and tears for many decades, are not only assured, but continue to progress.”

Daniela Raytchev does not believe that now is the time to close art galleries and contemplate, to sit quietly and politely while the brashest voices steer the herd, or to listen rather than to speak out in protest. Raytchev says “it’s not the time to revert” instead, now is the time “to stand up”. 

UPRISE / ANGRY WOMEN will take place in The Untitled Space gallery in New York from January 17- 28.

More about the author

About the author

As well as contributing to Disclaimer, Holly has published several comic short stories with Black Coffey, and has been known to write and perform stand-up comedy at festivals and charity gigs. Her first play for the radio is in production with Frequency Theatre, and she is currently working on a full-length play for the stage.

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