Blog / 2013 / Using Portraits to Humanize

August 12, 2013

Recently, I came across the work of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and specifically her Stop Telling Women to Smile.

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile

This project uses street art to respond to the harassment that women regularly face in that same venue. Fazlalizadeh has created posters featuring portraits of women who’ve been targeted in this way along with text which explains why it’s not okay to approach women like this. The posters say things like “women are not outside for your entertainment” and “my name is not baby,” and the artist puts these works where she has experienced harassment herself while also encouraging others to do the same.

The idea behind the work and the execution of Stop Telling Women to Smile are both powerful. And, as a conceptual portraitist myself, I’m intrigued by Fazlalizadeh’s choice to use real faces in her campaign to educate. There’s a special vulnerability to actual portraits as opposed to the blandness of more generalized figurative work. The subjects of Stop Telling Women to Smile lend the project their authenticity. They say: “yes, this happens to me, and I am a person with feelings and a life.”

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile

Of course, street art invites discourse in a way that art in other contexts often does not. I was especially struck by the exchange which took place on the poster pictured above—more close-up pictures of the text are here on the project’s blog. The conversation is as illuminating as it is frustrating.

UPDATE

May 30, 2018

I ended up including Fazlalizadeh’s art in a talk about freeing your art and yourself from copyright.

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