”I thought we were headed on a different trajectory,” New York-based artist Roxanne Jackson sighed in an interview with The Huffington Post. “I just really didn’t anticipate ... this.” Jackson was referring to the events of Nov. 9, 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.
In the days that followed, Jackson’s emotional state shifted from utter shock to a foggy depression as she struggled to come to terms with the fact that our nation’s foremost leader will soon be a man who has publicly objectified, demeaned, humiliated, threatened and bragged about assaulting women without recourse. A man with plans to defund Planned Parenthood, to “punish” women for having abortions and to rescind decades of progress toward gender equality.
Jackson was hardly alone in her feelings of disbelief, anger and fear. But she didn’t realize the extent of her support system until Nov. 14, 2016, when Jackson spontaneously posted a callout on Facebook. “Hello female artists/curators! Let’s organize a NASTY WOMEN group show!!! Who’s interested???” she wrote, tagging women artists, curators, and writers in her circle.
Shortly after posting, Jackson went offline to spend a day at work teaching ceramics. Unknown to her at the time, the message went viral as nasty artist after nasty artist recruited other like-minded ladies for the cause. “I had no idea how much this would escalate and evolve,” Jackson said. Within the first hour of posting, she had 300 responses.
The reaction to Jackson’s idea was so enthusiastic and impassioned that the prospect of curating a neat and tidy exhibition, capped at a certain number of participants, no longer felt quite right. After discussing the burgeoning project with her co-organizer, curator Jessamyn Fiore, Jackson decided no nasty woman would be turned away or left behind. And thus, “The Nasty Women Art Exhibition,” a sprawling buffet of proudly rude, women-identifying artists, was born.
In part, Jackson’s idea was inspired by her experience protesting outside of Trump Tower after election weekend and the overwhelming catharsis of being enveloped in a throng of united people. Through her art show, more of a visual protest than a traditional exhibition, she hoped to further communicate to nasty women everywhere that they are not alone.
To do so, Jackson and her team, comprised of Jessamyn Fiore, Angel Bellaran, Barbara Smith, Haley Shaw, Young Sun Han, Clive Murphy, Carolina Wheat, Liz Nielsen, Stephanie Stockbridge, and Aimee Odum, invited women artists from all over the world to submit their work. The only requirement was that their piece measures under 12 inches in every direction (a simple limitation meant to help manage the large quantity of artworks coming in). No artist who offered work was denied inclusion, and as a result, the crew acquired approximately 1,000 pieces by the time submissions closed.
“The Nasty Women Art Show” will be on view at Queens’ Knockdown Center starting Jan. 12 ― just one week before inauguration day. The multidisciplinary pieces, sent in by a whopping 694 artists, will be suspended from 12-foot tall sculptures that will read “Nasty Women” in hot pink letters. Some artists in the show, Jackson explained, are well-established in the New York art scene, but most aren’t names you’d find on the usual gallery roster. Some hail from small towns in red states, others from outside the U.S. completely, and many have never exhibited work before.
The true force of the show, more than any singular name or piece, is the sheer amount of images on view and the solidarity that number represents. “This show isn’t necessarily about highlighting individual artists,” Jackson explained. “It’s about female-identifying artists coming together against the Trump regime.”
Another wonderfully anti-establishment element of the exhibition is that the works on view are priced at $100 or less, with all proceeds benefitting Planned Parenthood. Viewers, then, can come home with a $10 artwork or a $100 piece by an artist whose works usually bring in far more zeroes. Jackson described the show as “cash and carry,” meaning you won’t have to wait until the end of the exhibition to take your new, feminist masterpiece ― just make sure to bring some dollar bills. “Hopefully the show will just look like very naked letters at the end,” Jackson mused.
It’s a strange time to be an artist in America. On the one hand, the urge to resist and express through creative means is stronger and more necessary than ever. And yet it’s easy for art to feel futile, insular and trivial amid dire political times.
Jackson, whose ceramic sculptures often operate on the fringes of the feminine grotesque, found that, post-election, her glam-horror aesthetic was no longer so horrific. “I’ve been making these monsters, but they’re not dark enough, they’re not intense enough,” she said. “However scary a sculpture could look, it’s nothing compared to Trump in the White House. The reality is horrifying.”
Yet rather than giving up on her craft, Jackson became more determined than ever to channel her skills into active resistance. For this reason, it was crucial to Jackson that the “Nasty Women” exhibition not just be “a group show of Bushwick artists,” as she put it, but an accessible visual protest that could reach beyond the borders usually ascribed to art happenings.
Along with the New York-based show, there are currently 23 other “Nasty Happenings” scheduled for the coming two months, taking place everywhere from Lubbock, Texas, to Brussels, Belgium. Jackson invites any and all other nasty women interested in getting involved to organize their own “Nasty Women” show, with instructions available on the show’s website. Her only request is that all shows adopting the “Nasty” name donate their proceeds to an organization benefiting women’s rights.
“I want this visual art protest to count,” Jackson said. “I want to inspire others, to continue to make art, to continue to march in protest, to resist as much as possible. This election has been a wake-up call. Our challenge is to not forget. We can’t just be defeated; we can’t just turn apathetic. We have to be active.”
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