How Six Artists Are Using Donald Trump's Anti-Feminist Comments To Spark A Powerful Movement
Before his historic presidential campaign, Donald Trump was best known for his flashy buildings, his "You're fired" catchphrase, and, of course, his involvement with pageants judging women on their looks. His penchant for spewing misogynistic phrases only continued throughout his campaign. Although these quips were often meant to put women down (calling Rosie O'Donnell "fat" and a "slob," or referring to Alicia Machado as "Miss Piggy"), these six artists are using Trump's anti-feminist comments to create empowering works of art for women.
Although 53 percent of white women voted for Trump according to exit polls, his countless demeaning comments didn't sit well with many. These six artists — who range from independents creating work for themselves to the women behind the pink pussy hats seen at the Women's March on Washington — all felt inspired by Trump's comments (and the anger they felt toward him) to create something meaningful for women.
"Trump was a tipping point," says Natalie Frank, who co-created the We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident mural, which debuted in New York City on Feb. 13. "This election was really an assault on so many types of people and for me, as a woman, it was especially horrendous to hear him say those things."
Whether creating 30-foot murals of sexist quotes from Trump and his administration or making large sculptures of women grabbing their own pussies, these six artists are sparking a feminist movement through their work.
Shona McAndrew, 26
Shona McAndrew, a 26-year-old artist who lives in Philadelphia, creates work that focuses on women's sexuality and gender. Perhaps most importantly, McAndrew tells Bustle that her artwork is a way to encourage women to actually enjoy themselves and their bodies. "There’s pride in acknowledging that we have a sexuality and that we have body parts that are taboo because they belong to a woman and blood comes out of our wherever," she tells Bustle.
All of McAndrew's sculptures — many of which have names, like "Norah" — depict women reconnecting with their bodies in an intimate way. Although they were initially created out of McAndrew's desires to understand women more, she tells me that they've taken a sort of political stance since Trump's rise. She says that she still thinks about his characterization of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado as "someone who likes to eat."
"There’s an irony in feeling so small when he’s talking about how big a woman can be," McAndrew says. But Trump's 2005 comments about how he can "grab [women] by the pussy" affected her the most, and ultimately inspired sculptures of women doing it themselves.
Also inspired by Henri Matisse's works in which women are sitting on chairs at being gazed at by men, McAndrew says her art, along with reclaiming the female anatomy from President Trump, led to her sculptures of women being looked at without being aware of it.
I don’t even know what 'ladylike' means, and I hope I never find out.
"That’s what Norah is doing — she’s not being ladylike because she doesn’t have to be ladylike. She’s just Norah, and Norah is badass," McAndrew says of the sculpture below. "She lives in New York, she’s comfortable in that chair, and I don’t really know what she’s thinking about, but it’s something that has her mind drifting off and when you drift off, you hold yourself. That’s what she’s doing: She’s grabbing herself."
Norah may be grabbing herself, but this work was clearly inspired by Trump's 2005 comments in which he bragged about making unwanted advances toward women. However, McAndrew tells Bustle that his comments have allowed women to have a conversation about what it means that a man thinks he can do that to women.
"Before Trump, I don’t know if I could have talked about pussies with my mother. I don’t know if I would’ve had the woman-balls to do that. But something about this now is connecting everyone," she says.
But even though Trump's campaign and eventual election have allowed McAndrew to openly talk about these things, she says she has suffered from a lifetime of people putting her down in ways similar to Trump's comments.
We spend so much time being taught that we’re in competition, because what we’re worth is what we look like.
After the election, McAndrew says she felt overwhelmed and scared when she finally accepted that Trump was president. "Having had a lifetime of these feelings pushing me down, I just didn’t want to do it one more time," she says. "But if we allow ourselves to be exactly what Trump says we are — small in comparison to him, with his big powers and his new job — then we’re not any better than what he says. We’re so much stronger than that."
And McAndrew's sculptures send a clear message about just how strong women are, as well as how we're in control of our own bodies. "We spend so much time being taught that we’re in competition, because what we’re worth is what we look like... I just feel like it’s so tiring," McAndrew says.
Although McAndrew says her work has been partially inspired by Trump's anti-feminist comments, she primarily wants it to send a message to women, by women. "I just want women to own up to their bodies and just to be themselves," she says.
But McAndrew says she does have one message for President Trump: "I don’t care what you think, because I’m so much more interested in what other women think and do."
Zoe Buckman, 31, And Natalie Frank, 36
Buckman (left), and Frank (right), have been creating art since they were 12 and 15 years old, respectively. Both have always focused their work on the female, feminist experience and perspective, but "Trump was a tipping point," Frank says.
After Trump's 2005 comments were leaked, and after as many as 18 women have come forward and accused him of sexual assault and harassment, Buckman and Frank wanted to confront his oppressive rhetoric through art.
"We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident" is a 30-foot mural, located in New York City, that displays various sexist remarks from Trump and his administration. "Unfortunately, there are so many that we feel absolutely need to be in the mural," Buckman tells Bustle. "Working on this is so difficult. It’s been such a horrible experience researching and garnering all of these quotes. It’s so depressing."
In their Kickstarter video, Natalie Frank recited a 2013 quote from Ben Carson, Trump's nominee for secretary of Housing and Urban Development, which will be on the mural: "There is no war on [women], the war is on their babies... What we need to do is re-educate the women to understand that they are the defenders of these babies."
Although they say there was no shortage of quotes to pick from, both artists say that what Trump is doing is "just as surreal, if not more surreal, than these unbelievable quotes we’re coming across, and this is the reality we’re living in now."
Buckman and Frank tell Bustle that President Trump has proven that language can be a dangerous and powerful tool, hence the reason for reprinting quotes on a giant, public mural. "He’s so aware of the misogyny that he’s using it as a tool," Buckman says. Her previous work, as seen above and below, has similarly used language and public signage (billboards and benches) to spread an anti-Trump message.
"We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident" debuted in New York City on Feb. 13. "The mural is from the viewpoint of two women who have encountered this very acutely," says Frank, "but it’s important to acknowledge this is one gateway into the abusive language, and its real effects, that Trump uses against many, many, many others."
But Frank insists that this is not just about Trump and his Cabinet; rather, it's representative of a larger power imbalance between the sexes. "When one in four women experience sexual assault in their lifetime, it’s much broader than the current moment we’re in," she says.
In addition to their mural, which the artists tell Bustle they hope people will read and be offended and shocked by, they have larger hopes for women on how we can move forward under a Trump president. "Be aware of the language that’s being used, be aware of the people who are saying it, and vote," Frank says.
For Buckman, the message of the mural is more simple: "Enough is enough. We can’t put up with this any more. People in power shouldn’t be able to lie."
Sahana Ramakrishnan, 23
Sahana Ramakrishnan has been creating art since she was nine years old, and her work has matured as she has, evolving from "drawing SpongeBob all over the place" to crafting "melancholy, creepy, dream-like things" inspired by Salvador Dalí and female surrealists. Like the other artists, Ramakrishnan tells Bustle that Trump's "grab 'em by the pussy" comment was just another thing that made her feel threatened as a woman. "It wasn’t just that moment; it was the overall spirit that as a woman you encounter every single day of men treating you however they want to when you’re walking down the street," she says.
For Ramakrishnan, creating empowering artworks, like this, for herself and for other women was a way to fight back against Trump's anti-feminist comments. "I read all of these things about Donald Trump, as well as experienced all of this, so I came back and just needed art therapy," she tells Bustle. "That process involved representing a display of power relative to the female body. Showing the female body in a position of power and vulnerability at the same time because she’s naked — that’s power for her."
The interesting thing about Ramakrishnan's work, similar to Shona McAndrew's, is that it often reflects how, as women, they want to feel in real life, particularly when faced with misogynist attacks from men. "I’m not usually so political," she says. "This is actually more personal than political, and that’s the problem: Politics are invading our personal bodies and our personal space."
Ramakrishnan tells Bustle that her work also expresses an aspect of feminine power that she describes as a woman externally displaying anger or power, but without feeling internally affected by those things. "That’s real power, so that’s what I wanted to show," she says.
A large part of this power comes from the presence of the female body. This is evident in her some of her work throughout the 2016 election, such as the image below, which was inspired by a desire to imagine how much power women's bodies have and can express.
In light of recent protests like the Women's March on Washington, Ramakrishnan tells Bustle how art can be another form of powerful protest: "A lot of female artists are doing the same thing and representing a claim of ownership over their own body. I think that the sum of all female artists shouting in a collective, very diverse voice, the same thing — that we’re powerful and we have control over our own bodies — I think that collective voice is protest."
Jayna Zweiman, 38, And Krista Suh, 29
Jayna Zweiman, left, and Krista Suh, right, are the two women behind the now-famous "pink pussy hats" of the national Women's March on Jan. 21 against Trump. Although the hats were in direct response to Trump's election, both women tell Bustle that the name (formally the "pussy power hats") emerged naturally from hearing his comments.
"We all feel it, like his anti-feminist misogyny. I was keenly aware that this was going to be a powerful, controversial name," Suh tells Bustle, adding that she was "shell-shocked" after the election. "I tried to figure out what I could do that was more than just showing up... something that had impact beyond just my presence there."
The hats were also intended as a way to reclaim the word "pussy" from Trump, and to reclaim femininity at large. "It’s amazing how a word like 'pussy' became sort of the zeitgeist of politics in 2016. It’s so charged, and a lot of this is kind of reclaiming that word," Zweiman says. "I think that it’s really empowering to kind of de-charge that word."
And the project didn't just stop at empowering women to say the word "pussy"; it was a way of using Trump's anti-feminist language to empower women all over the world to participate in the Women's March, even if they couldn't physically be there.
"When someone marches with a hat, they’re not just marching by themselves; there are two people marching because they’re representing the people who are back home who couldn’t make the march. We’re giving visibility to the people who otherwise wouldn’t be," Zweiman says.
But the effects of the pussy power hats will last far beyond the Women's March in that, as Zweiman explains to Bustle, normalizing the use of the word "pussy" is a way for parents to have these conversations with their children. "It’s also a way to try to figure out how to talk about Donald Trump," she says. "It becomes sort of a parenting question. It’s so charged, but is that something that we’re going to be teaching our daughters and what it means, and how are we going to be teaching them?"
Although the hats were created in response to Trump's election, Suh tells Bustle, she hopes the hats will inspire political resistance against the Trump administration moving forward. "It’s not just a knitting circle. You are being politically active already by just organizing, talking, sharing, and taking action together. This project is showing people that not only can you be a political activist, you already are."