How the Art World Took to the Streets for International Women’s Day

Perhaps because it originated in Soviet Russia as part of the socialist movement, International Women’s Day has not historically been widely celebrated in the US. That all changed this year in the aftermath of the election of President Donald Trump.

The organizers of the Women’s March, which saw millions gather in 600 cities around the world to protest the new administration, declared March 8 “A Day Without a Woman.” The worldwide day of action asked women to stay home from work for the day, not make any purchases, and to wear red in solidarity with the cause.

In general, the actions around the Day Without a Women were, predictably, concentrated in fields with high degrees of female workers, like education and culture. Many in the art world used the moment to make a statement, with ARTnews reporting that New York dealers Metro Pictures, Koenig & Clinton, and A.I.R. Gallery shut down as part of the strike. Complex magazine, a New York-based fashion and arts and culture publication, ceased publication for the day, save to cover the strike and women’s issues.

The International Women's Day a Day Without a Woman rally in New York's Washington Square Park. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

The International Women’s Day a Day Without a Woman rally in New York’s Washington Square Park. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

“Trump is terrifying. His entire administration, they have no respect for women or our rights,” Adina Ferbera, registrar at New York’s Hauser & Wirth gallery, told the Washington Post during the International Women’s Strike rally in New York City. “They need to deal with us as an economic force.”  She said she had taken a vacation day to attend.

The mood at Washington Square Park was one of optimism, with Rabyaah Althaibani, organizer of the Yemeni Bodega Strike, assuring the crowd that “strikes work; protests work; boycotts work!”

The International Women's Day a Day Without a Woman rally in New York's Washington Square Park. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

The International Women’s Day a Day Without a Woman rally in New York’s Washington Square Park. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

The official theme of the day was “Be Bold for Change,” just one of the numerous refrains chanted by the thousands gathered in the park.

Nearby, artist Rona Yefman went with a message of female empowerment for her own International Women’s Day action, in the form of a do-it-yourself graffiti stencil that reads “I Love My life!” Using temporary hot pink spray paint, friends of the artist emblazoned the artwork on storefront windows of woman-owned or -run galleries and businesses on the Lower East Side with the message.

The message is currently on view at Participant Inc. and Equity Gallery, and Yefman plans to expand to other sites around the city throughout March, in honor of Women’s History Month.

Rona Yefman, <em>I Love my life!</em>. Courtesy of Rona Yefman.

Rona Yefman, I Love my life!. Courtesy of Rona Yefman.

As night began to fall over the city, nearly 90 women (and a few men) gathered on the roof of Chelsea’s Hotel Americano for a panel discussion on issues facing women in the art world. (Full disclosure: the event was organized by Young Women in the Arts, the women’s networking group I co-founded exactly a year ago with Katya Khazei, and I moderated the talk.)

Carolina Alvarez-Mathies of Creative TimeJiaJia Fei of the Jewish MuseumAshlee Harrison of Carpenters Workshop GalleryEleni Petaloti of LOT Office for Architecture, and Marlies Verhoeven of the Cultivist spoke candidly about their career experiences, the need to overcome the pay gap, the importance of mentoring, and how women in the art world can resist discriminatory legislation passed by the new administration.

Sarah Cascone, JiaJia Fei, Eleni Petaloti, Ashlee Harrison, Marlies Verhoeven, and Carolina Alvarez-Mathies at the Young Women in the Arts International Women's Day gathering at Hotel Americano. Courtesy of Young Women in the Arts.

Sarah Cascone, JiaJia Fei, Eleni Petaloti, Ashlee Harrison, Marlies Verhoeven, and Carolina Alvarez-Mathies at the Young Women in the Arts International Women’s Day gathering at Hotel Americano. Courtesy of Young Women in the Arts.

As guests filtered out into the night, the Empire State Building glowed magenta above the hotel rooftop to celebrate the day, serving as a powerful visual reminder of the many similarly minded women around the world, and the power of our collective voice, both in the art world and beyond.

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