Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project is about power, namely the power to navigate public space without fear of harassment. On Saturday night, I spotted one of her “Women Are Not Seeking Your Validation” poster, which riffs off her earlier works that have a graphic simplicity to them accompanied by a PSA-like message. Here the message is more direct and open ended.
“Have I been trying to offer women validation?” I couldn’t help but wonder after being confronted by the image on the street.
The poster’s typeface evokes a time before public service announcements began to mimic the sleekness of corporate advertising. The woman on the poster is not an idealization but appears to be a portrait of a real person with serious and uneven eyes. Her stare heightens the message and makes you wonder if the location was the site of some specific altercation, but of course that’s part of Fazlalizadeh’s point — most public space is a contested space for many women, and any space can be a potential site of violence and confrontation.
Other posters by Fazlalizadeh read “My Name Is Not Baby” or “Women Do Not Owe You Their Time or Conversation,” and she has made the images available as merchandise in the form of posters and tshirts.
Writing about her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project, Fazlalizadeh says “It’s my hope that some women will walk pass these wheat pastes and feel empowered. That men will at least take notice and consider what the posters are saying. And that the conversation about street harassment will continue to be enlivened and hopefully produce some sort of solution.”