The smiling poop emoji is just five years old, but it has already infiltrated American culture, inspiring everything from halloween costumes to nail decals. Now it’s the jumping-off point for The Shit Show, a two-day exhibition in New York that celebrates World Toilet Day and is meant to draw attention to the global sanitation crisis.
“There has been so much cultural chatter around emojis lately — especially the poop emoji,” says Sarina Prabasi, chief executive of WaterAid America. “People don’t think of it this way, but it’s just one piece of art around poop, and we wanted to tap into that fascination.”
The show will feature a vast array of potty-themed works by 30 artists, including Henri Obassi, Nick Chaffe, Kervin Brisseaux, and Carolina Melis. Jon Burgerman contributed a sculptural installation called “Poop World” that features colorful poop swirls growing from the floor, walls, and ceiling. Geo Law will work onsite over the show’s duration to paint a 20-foot mural illustrating the impact toilets have on communities in developing countries.
The exhibition will open in conjunction with the release of an app called Give a Shit. It lets users customize their own poop emojis with different facial features, hairstyles, and accessories. “The app is an incredible way for people to take a stand against the sanitation crisis, but we wanted something more,” Prabasi says. “We wanted someplace for the digital illustrations and conversations to live in person, and where people could really look at toilets from a different perspective. Art provides a great platform for that, and so The Shit Show was born.”
Prabasi hopes the lighthearted approach will get people talking about a serious issue. According to the UN, some 2.4 billion people don’t have adequate sanitation, and 1 billion are still forced to defecate out in the open. “Here in the US, it’s so easy to go about our days and never think twice about our toilets,” Prabasi says. “While we haven’t entirely solved the sanitation issue ourselves — more than 36,000 Americans today don’t have a safe, private toilet — the state of the world’s toilets really is no joke.”
The Shit Show runs at 103 Norfolk Street (Lower East Side, Manhattan) from November 20 to 22.