Last night, FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, an art collective known for multiple viral public art actions, projected the faces and stories of survivors of rape and abuse onto the façade of Washington, D.C.’s Convention Center. Each image was accompanied by the hashtag #WeWillNotBeSilent and the words, “In this man, I see violence.” Statements described the way in which Donald Trump’s predatory behavior reminds survivors of their abusers. For people gathered to look, those walking by, in their cars and on their way to inaugural events during rush hour traffic it was impossible to look away. It was a clear, crisp night and the facade is 60 feet tall. The action was done in collaboration with DISCLOSE, an Oakland-based art-activism collective, which simultaneously staged projections on the West Coast. The projected stills and are come from a video created by DISCLOSE, which was released online today.
“As survivors of violence, we know best the tactics that Trump uses to maintain power because we have lived it. Trump is not new, but all too familiar. As a survivor and as a queer, Native woman I know deeply the hate that Trump embodies, because I live it everyday,” explained Rebecca Nagle, co-founder, along with Hannah Brancato, of the organization. “We also know that the culture that allowed Donald Trump to be successful are larger than just one person and we have to name the violence that is so deeply embedded in U.S. culture that a man like this could be our president.”
There is no doubt, as evidenced by the millions of #NotOK stories shared in the buildup to the election, that Donald Trump reminds millions of women of the every day reality of sexual harassment, street harassment and domestic abuse. Writer Rebecca Solnit’s recent searing description of Trump’s second debate performance captures why: “Trump roamed, loomed, glowered, snarled and appeared to copulate with his podium, grasping it with both hands and swaying his hips, seeming briefly lost in reverie. The menace was so dramatic, so Hitchcockian, that the Hollywood composer Danny Elfman wrote a soundtrack for a video edit playing up all the most ominous moments ... Friends told me they thought he might assault her; I thought it possible myself as I watched him roam and rage.”
In the last weeks of the election, multiple women came forward with their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, only to have the candidate engage in a textbook response of how domestic abusers act when confronted with their crimes. In these instances and others, Trump denies, mocks, attacks and reverses the perpetrator/victim trajectory. Or, as Teen Vogue’s Lauren Duca succinctly put it, he is gaslighting America. Trump’s behavior, body language, words and actions all combine to present the picture of a man that many see simply as a violent, manipulative Abuser-in-Chief who has surrounded himself with a cohort of people who seem equally inclined.
Some people wonder why take the trouble to do something like this, or, worse, actively disparage efforts that are filled with visceral emotions and not tied to specific and concrete plans. Public display of women’s and survivors’ freedom of expression are vitally important and subversive. It takes bravery, determination and will do participate, to be visible and, even in the impaction silence of projections like these, loud in intent and sentiment. During the time that the images covered the front wall of the Convention Center and people walked by in black-tie, heading for the Deplora Ball, an evening celebration of the inauguration, thousands of people looked up to read the unexpected words and consider what they mean.
As inaugural events unfolded in Washington, D.C., today groups around the country planned protests, resistance movements, and ways for people to participate in every day acts of activism and civic engagement. The art action was a compelling way to confront what most people in the country see as day that marks the start of a long, dangerous and painful period. It was particularly poignant given the announcement by the Trump administration yesterday that, among many other cuts, the administration is planning to eliminate twenty-five Department of Justice grants to fight Violence Against Women and the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. “The goal of the piece is really to uplift survivors voices at a time that a lot of people are normalizing Trump’s behavior,” said Nagle. The projections preceded today’s #WeWillNotBeSilent Twitter storm in which survivors shared ways to organize acts of resistance to a culture that just doubled down on powerful institutional tolerance for rape.
Photo credits, Nate Larson, used with permission.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.