This Artist Was Sick Of Men Telling Her To Smile. So She Told Them So.

Franchesca Ramsey

Have you ever had to deal with being told to smile by a complete stranger? Or maybe you've told a stranger to smile and couldn't figure out why they rolled their eyes or just didn't respond at all? Doesn't matter which side you're on; this street art campaign tackles this all too familiar situation in a way that speaks to everyone in a creative and refreshingly honest way.

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: My name is Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, and I'm an artist based in Brooklyn, New York, and this is my project; "Stop Telling Women to Smile." "Stop Telling Women to Smile" is a public art series that is addressing street harassment, particularly gender-based street harassment. 

I started the project about a year ago, and I started it because I wanted to talk about my experiences with street harassment. It was my way of speaking back to my harassers, guys who say things to me on the street that are unwelcome, that are unwanted, and that are aggressive and assertive, and really make you feel uncomfortable and harassed. I thought it was important to talk about street harassment where it actually happens in the environment, so instead of doing a painting, which is what I usually do because I'm primarily an oil painter, I decided to try something new, and go outside and talk about street harassment there, and, you know, speak up for myself, and express myself in what I wanted to say about it in this environment where it actually happens.

I sit down and I talk with women, and we talk about street harassment. We talk about their experiences. I hear their stories, what they want to say to harassers, and I draw their portraits, and I put it outside in the street. So I'm putting a face to these words. It's not just, "Hey. Street harassment is bad." You actually get to see this woman's face who goes through this daily, and what she wants to say about it. 

Koku Tona: I've experienced a lot of street harassment, and it's really crazy, like some of the things that I hear. And when I tell the stories to people that don't live in New York, they just can't believe, like, what happens here, and it's really bad. 

Zahira Kelly: It's an everyday thing. Not just daily, it's all through the day, you know, anywhere that you happen to be walking. And there's a range, you know. There's a range from, you know, what they think is nice, which is like, "Hey, beautiful," or something. But they'll still get mad if you don't respond. They're like, "Well, you're welcome, bitch," you know, or something, because, you know, you're supposed to be so grateful that, you know, they care. 

It's like, "I didn't really ask you. I don't really need to give you the time. Eight of you did it today. I can't stop for each and every one of you. I have places to go and things to do. I do not have unlimited time. But then if I pay attention to all of you, I'm a whore, so, I mean, what am I supposed to do here?"

Koku Tona: I've given myself a curfew, because I feel like there are times I can't even walk down quiet streets. I feel like even the quieter the street, you know, the more dangerous that it is, because of the level of harassment that you receive and just, I guess, the entitlement people feel. Like, you know, if they're complimenting you in the way that they feel is, you know, complimentary, they feel like, you know, you owe them something. And I don't know to what extent someone will go as far as what they think that I owe.

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: I shoot their photograph, I draw their portrait from that photograph, and I come up with a caption. I come up with text for the poster. That's inspired by what they told me. Sometimes it's a direct quote. Sometimes it's the ... something that kind of comes up. I [fill out] what their experiences are and what they feel about street harassment, and I add that to the poster. 

I design the posters. I print them out, and I go out and I wheat paste. You know, wheat pasting, it's really fun. I feel like it's a great and perfect medium for this project. I make the wheat paste at home, usually, and I go out, usually by myself, sometimes in a group, and we'll wheat paste these posters around. I try to put them up in the area where the woman lives, or, you know, where she feels close to street harassment, and then I put them up everywhere. I try to put them up wherever I can. I realize that street harassment doesn't happen in one community. It doesn't happen in one neighborhood. It happens everywhere, and so I try to spread these posters out and cover a lot of ground. 

b>Zahira Kelly: I always fantasize about walking around with, like, a huge sign over my head that says, "I'm not here for you," just "I am not here for you. The fucking end," like that would say, "I'm not here for you," you know. That's not what my existence is about. 

I actually don't give a fuck if that sounds selfish, but I have nothing to do with you, and I don't have to do anything for you, or about you, for what so fucking ever. That is my sole choice, you know, and that will be about me. 

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Every poster is personal. It's specific and particular, and when you put them all together, you see how it fits into this context. You have this whole group of women who are all speaking their voices and all saying what they want to say about street harassment.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

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