You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when a hungry-looking man jeers and lurches towards you: Is he a zombie, or a catcaller? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
At least, so suggest the teenage painters of a new mural in Bed-Stuy, titled “Respect is the Strongest Compliment.” It uses a scene like something from Night of the Living Dead as a visual metaphor for how it feels to be a woman who’s constantly harassed on the street.
Painted by 20 young women, ages 15 to 21, the mural depicts catcallers as drooling packs of undead, saying things like “God bless those legs” and “Hey yo, ma” and “I told you to smile.” They stagger towards frightened women–both female figures from art history and artists’ self-portraits–saying “Stop” and “I object to objectification.”
Perhaps predictably, the teenagers say they’ve been constantly getting sexually harassed while painting this mural fighting sexual harassment. “Every day we always get catcalled, or there’s always comments, people whistling at us,” Violet Ponce, a 17-year-old from Bushwick, told the Bed-Stuy Patch.
“We wanted to show that the feeling of being catcalled or when someone says something disturbing, it causes fear,” Danielle McDonald, an art teacher overseeing the project along with assistant artist Jazmin Hayes, told the Brooklyn Paper. “So that’s where the zombies came from–something scary and mindless.” They cite feminist activist graphic art as inspiration, from political posters and comic books to works by the likes of Guerrilla Girls and Jenny Holzer.
Brooklyn public art organization Groundswell hired the young artists to paint this horror movie scene on the side of a Food Bazaar on Myrtle Avenue between Broadway and Lewis Street. It draws attention to gender-based violence, an issue that affects most women in urban environments, but that many don’t take seriously, according to the designers.
“The majority of women have been catcalled while walking the streets of NYC and harassed to the point of fear being imprinted in their skin,” Eona John, one young painter participating in the project, told us. “I feel as though ‘Respect Is The Strongest Compliment’ made the fear and annoyance of the women of NYC come to life.” The mural is one of seven addressing social issues that Groundswell is working on around the city.
It’s not the first public art campaign in Brooklyn to draw attention to the perils of street harassment. With her project “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” artist Tatyana Fazlalidadeh wheat-pasted posters around several cities, including New York, aimed at talking back to street harassers. They featured portraits of real women captioned with what they’d like to say back to their harassers–phrases like “Women Do Not Owe You Their Time Or Conversation” and “My Outfit Is Not an Invitation.” The Bed-Stuy mural takes a different approach–instead of talking back to harassers, it holds a kind of mirror up to them and seeks to express how it can feel to be the target of harassment (kind of like this).
The completed 20-by-97-foot mural will be unveiled on August 28th.
[via Bed-Stuy Patch]