While traveling in Istanbul, Margaret Mahan accepted a ride back to her studio — only to be attacked by the man inside. Two years later, the 25 year old is taking a stand against sexual and domestic violence, through “Panty Pulping,” an artistic form of trauma therapy.
Mahan, whose latest art portfolio was recently purchased by the Haas Family Arts Library, spoke to a group of 15 members of the Yale community at a Saybrook College Master’s Tea on Tuesday. The young artist-activist talked about her journey in papermaking and shared her passion for using this art form as a way to help people deal with their personal struggles.
“Especially if [a] fabric has personal significance, [there’s] something about cutting it and forming something new out of it,” Mahan said. “It’s really empowering … and it can be really emotionally intense for some people as well.”
Mahan said her latest project is traveling to colleges to teach students what she calls “Panty Pulping.”
As the name suggests, these workshops involve creating paper out of cut up pieces of underwear. At the workshops, Mahan said she aims to promote a “consent culture” on college campuses, talking about healthy relationship practices and how to break cycles of abuse in creative ways.
“The idea is that they’re standing in solidarity against sexual and domestic violence,” Mahan said.
Though Mahan said she came up with the idea after being attacked during a work trip to Istanbul.
Mahan said she felt relieved once the municipality had apprehended her attacker but had trouble getting over the incident.
“After two days of people giving me gifts and trying to help me feel better … it felt like they all went back to normal,” she said, “But it was really hard for me to get back to normal.”
While walking through Istanbul and noticing the juxtaposition between women in burqas and multiple shops selling “kinky lingerie,” she decided to take matters into her own hands by buying the lingerie and turning it into what she thought was most beautiful: paper.
“People were starting to think I was going crazy,” she said, “But I put it all up in the beader … and really quickly it all just disappeared. It just turned into pulp.”
Mahan said the process was cathartic, and tears came to her eyes as she recounted the experience.
She said one of her favorite parts of papermaking is the way the fibers are separated and reformed into something new and resilient.
Mahan has also held papermaking workshops on topics other than sexual and domestic violence. Over the past few years, she has worked in locations such as juvenile correction facilities, homeless shelters and cancer hospitals.
“Patients will actually pull out their hospital gowns and make paper out of them,” Mahan said. “What we try to do is get people to use fibres they have a connection with.”
Attendees said they were moved by Mahan’s passion and stories.
Saybrook Master Paul Hudak said the way Mahan used her own experiences to create an art form was “incredibly moving” and powerful, especially because Mahan has been able to help others deal with their own hardships.
“I enjoyed the passion in her eyes,” Jessica Pancer ’17 said. “It’s an art form … the way she tells her stories.”
Jae Rossman, assistant director of special collections at the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library and a Saybrook College fellow, said the library is currently in conversation with Mahan to hold a papermaking workshop at Yale.
The Haas Family Arts Library is located at 180 York St.