Based in Silicon Valley, Kataoka had recently begun distributing a poster titled “Now Is The Time,” a simple tribute to the fact that Clinton could become the first-ever woman president of the United States. Kataoka originally created the poster as a gift to Clinton volunteers in the Bay area; she handed them out to the individuals “working in the trenches” as canvassers or phone bank callers. Through word of mouth, Clinton’s campaign caught onto the image.
Fast forward to the DNC, where two seven-foot tall prints of Kataoka’s poster greeted Democrats as they waded through the convention arena. The image consists of an hourglass filled with historic female “firsts,” including the first American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree and the first woman police chief of a major city. The words “First Woman President of the United States of America 2017” sit near the top.
“Hundreds of people came by each day to take selfies,” Kataoka explained to The Huffington Post. “And it was amazing that many, many women, after interacting with the image, would pause, and say: ‘My mom was a first.’ ‘I was a first.’ Or, ‘My grandmother, you know, she was a first too.’”
One woman explained that her grandmother was the first postmistress in a small town called Liberal, Missouri. Another woman recalled how her great aunt became the first woman psychologist west of the Mississippi. Yet another admitted that she was on the cusp of a first ― her name is Tawana Cadien, and she is currently running for the 10th Congressional District of Texas. If she wins, she’ll be the first woman to claim that seat.
Kataoka sold every single one of her “Now Is The Time” posters and T-shirts at the DNC, returning home to California with a waitlist scribbled on a piece of scrap paper. She was overwhelmed by the ways women connected with her work ― a poster that celebrates Hillary Clinton and various other iconic figures without ever mentioning their names.
“When I returned to Silicon Valley, I wanted to find a way to capture all of these stories of firsts,” she added. “One of the original goals of the image was to make U.S. women’s history more visible, so I wanted to highlight historic firsts, everyday firsts and anywhere in between. To do that, I built an online app.”
The app allows women to add their own “first” to the poster, no matter how small, amounting to a personalized image they can download and share across social media. We checked in with Kataoka to learn more about her poster, the app and how Hillary Clinton herself has responded to the art.
First, can you tell me a little bit about your background as an artist?
I’m an artist based in Silicon Valley. My works merge art and technology for social impact. I work in a variety of disciplines: more traditional ones like mirror-polished steel sculpture and Japanese ink painting, often integrated with newer techniques such as virtual reality, brainwaves, time dilation and digital image processing. My work was featured at the first art exhibit in zero gravity at the International Space Station.
The “Now Is the Time” poster was initially given out to Hillary campaign volunteers in the Bay Area. How did this come about?
Originally, I was printing out “Now Is The Time” posters and giving them away to Hillary campaign volunteers working in the trenches. I wanted to do something for the people who are tirelessly and quietly toiling (the majority of them women). They are phone-banking and canvassing door-to-door-to-door. They never stop. They’ve put their lives on hold to get out the vote, and to campaign for Hillary. I think “Now Is The Time” struck a chord and began to spread quickly through the grassroots, via word of mouth, within this passionate and interconnected group. Soon after, I began selling the prints and donating 100 percent of the proceeds to the campaign.
And how did the poster make its way to the DNC?
Tech leaders like Marc Benioff began tweeting about it. People like Jamie Lee Curtis saw it and she proclaimed “Now Is The Time” gave her goosebumps (I thought that was cool, given she is the best scream queen of all time). Soon people from outside of California were finding me on the internet, contacting me and asking me how they could order a poster. The campaign saw a “Now Is The Time” poster and invited me to bring the image to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Has Hillary Clinton seen the poster? Has the poster been officially endorsed by her campaign?
This is not a project that originated from the campaign nor was endorsed by it. That said, two people in her campaign told me that Hillary “loved” the empowering message. And on two different occasions, she signed “Now Is the Time” prints for me. Last week, I was honored to have “Now Is The Time” featured in an Evening of Art for Hillary, an official fundraiser event for the Hillary Victory Fund in NYC.
Design-wise, why did you choose the hourglass as the primary symbol on the poster?
I was driving through the forest near my home in Northern California and I came up with the idea for the hourglass. I was thinking about the urgency of now, juxtaposed against the vast sands of time. I thought about how women’s accomplishments in history have been like grains of sand ― numerous yet almost invisible. I then started to imagine accomplishments from the 1800s going through an hourglass, then more and more recent ones building up on top, ultimately leading to the present and future.
That week, I began collecting U.S. women’s firsts and started placing them into the hourglass. In the image, our potential first woman president stands on the shoulders of so many women before her who were fearless dreamers, risk-takers, doers, change-makers. At the top is the first we are hoping to witness in January ― but this first is not inevitable. So the image is a call to action. And the image is open and incomplete ― that open space at the top of the hourglass represents the firsts that are yet to come.
Why did you choose not to depict Hillary herself ― or even her name ― on the poster?
Hillary’s name, or anybody else’s name, is not on the image. It is just achievements and dates. To me, this represents the fact that women’s accomplishments have been largely unnamed and invisible in our history. And also, it is a good test for anyone: How many of the historical women in the image can you name?
Additionally, as the artist, I chose not to sign the image. I wanted to convey that this moment, potentially electing the first woman POTUS, is larger than ourselves and even larger than Hillary. Also I feel that Hillary’s campaign is less about ego and projecting a personality, and more about policy and a proven track record.
“Touch Our Future” is a tech artwork I built to deepen engagement around infant mortality. Anyone could give their hand trace through the app, which would then weave it into a digital tapestry of hands from women and their infants from developing countries, and people from around the world. The goal was to make the daunting issue of 3 million babies dying in the first 28 days of life less remote, and to evoke a more personal, emotional response to the dry and frightening statistics.
Here with “Now Is The Time,” I hope to build a collective narrative and highlight the amazing accomplishments of U.S. women. These amazing accomplishments, which made it possible to consider having a woman president, get totally lost in the “reality TV” tone and aggressive drumbeat of cable news. Not everybody who participates in “Now Is The Time” has to be a Hillary supporter, or even a Democrat. Interestingly, some have been Republicans or undecided voters.
In your opinion, do artists have a responsibility to engage with the political or social issues of our time?
I think that we all, as citizens and voters, should engage with the political and social issues of our time. I do not think that artists are any more, or any less, obligated to do so than anybody else. But it is true that, perhaps, artists today live in a bit of an ivory tower, compared to previous generations ― see Picasso, or the Expressionists, etc. For me, personally, social causes are an important part of my inspiration.
Were you at all inspired by Shepard Fairey’s work during the 2008 election?
I highly respect Shepard Fairey’s powerful work, but he was not directly part of my inspiration for this project. I’m inspired by the many historical and everyday firsts of American women. I’m also energized by the historic nature of this election and by the extraordinary women in the trenches. I’m incredibly inspired by the prospect of having our first woman president in January. I believe that there can never be gender equality without it, and so it is a human rights issue in our country.
Finally, can we expect to see anything else from you before November?
Many women and men have inspired me to create something for the inauguration. Remember to check out my site post-election.