About 70 New Haven residents and artists held protest signs, white roses and colorful umbrellas outside the Institute Library on April 8, preparing to march to Planned Parenthood after viewing the Nasty Women New Haven Art Exhibit.
The parade, organized by Nasty Women Connecticut, an international art movement focused on women’s rights, left the Institute Library for Planned Parenthood at 1 p.m. and returned at 3:30 p.m. for the exhibit’s closing night. Showcasing 340 works from local artists, the art exhibit addressed concerns ranging from abortion to sexual objectification.
“All the pieces were accepted into the show, no matter what,” said Institute Library Director Valerie Garlick, a lead organizer of the event. “The show is covered in female body echography, extracts, videos, sculptures, piecing and installation art. Pieces of all kind[s] came through — and not just from woman, but all genders.”
According to lead organizer Lucy McClure, Nasty Women Connecticut reached out to artists from a wide range of groups and different generations while working hard to create a safe space for people to feel vulnerable and share their difficult stories with strangers.
After attracting more than 1,000 visitors at the exhibit’s opening night on March 9, Nasty Women Connecticut strived to build momentum through Saturday’s march, said McClure. Saturday’s march supported Planned Parenthood as that was the main goal of the first branch, founded in New York City last year, explained McClure, who noted that Planned Parenthood is also one of the organizations most threatened by President Donald Trump’s administration.
At the end of the march, attendees planted white rose bushes and gifted Planned Parenthood a $2,821.82 check with all the donations raised up to this point, said artist Martha Lewis, who displayed her own Ukrainian-style protest eggs in the exhibit.
The symbolism for the white roses stemmed from The White Rose, which was a “nonviolent, intellectual resistance group” in Nazi Germany led by a group of students and professors at the University of Munich, explained McClure. The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign that called for active opposition against the Nazi regime, she said.
As organizers handed white roses to demonstrators, many artists stood near their pieces to offer explanations of their work.
“I have a Twitter-connected Trump voodoo doll,” said Melissa Labbe of Nutley, New Jersey. “I’m a technologist and an artist, and this is my response to the president’s use of Twitter, which I think is kind of an end-run around the media. You can actually tweet at the voodoo doll, and he gets a little zap, and his eyes light up.”
Another artist, Anne Hughes, displayed a photograph taken in 1971 of her grandmother protesting in Washington, D.C. alongside a photograph of Hughes and her grandmother at the 2017 Women’s March.
“One hundred years from now, we’re still in the same place, having the same fight, just against different old, white men,” Hughes said.
Some circumstances have changed, she noted, but she added that women still don’t receive equal pay or value for their contributions and gifts to society, families and communities.
The exhibit was an extraordinary opportunity for demonstrating the power of art and artists to make a statement that is important to society, attendee David Sheer said.
“From what I’ve already seen from the exhibit, I find it very powerful,” said attendee Mo Silla. “I love the colors, the intensity of some pieces. Some of them are subtly intense and some of them are right out there. I think it’s right for our time to be here, and I’m so happy that New Haven has this.”
To Sheer, the event underscored why art is important to communities that seek to unite under important issues, especially at a time when government support for the arts is under attack.
According to McClure, art communicates in many different ways, in many different voices and reaches each person in a unique way. She said that, as an artist, art was one thing she could contribute when being politically active.
“If you have the ability to have a voice, then you should use it because not everyone has a voice at this point,” McClure said. “You can’t be afraid because this is what we have to do. It’s the only chance we have to make a change for the better for all future generations.”
New Haven is one of the 50 cities nationwide to organize a Nasty Woman exhibition since Trump’s election.