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'Our Right to Be Mad as Hell’: The Artists Harnessing Anger to Challenge Trump

Jan 18 2017 3:54 PM
'Our Right to Be Mad as Hell’: The Artists Harnessing Anger to Challenge Trump

"Plug It Up" by Laura Murray. Art courtesy of The Untitled Space

As America braces itself for Trump's inauguration, a group of 80 women artists is standing up to express their anger at the state of the world.

As Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the US on Friday, 80 women artists will be taking over a gallery in lower Manhattan to display artwork fueled by anger and rage. In response to Trump's election, Indira Cesarine, the curator and founder of The Untitled Space, invited women to submit pieces in response to an open call. She received an overwhelming 1,800 works reacting to the current social and political atmosphere.

The resulting exhibition, Uprise/Angry Women, isn't just an expression of unified female dissent against Trump and the American political system. It's a way of challenging how women's anger is portrayed and subsequently used against them. Women who show anger, or any similarly strong emotion, are commonly characterized as psycho, crazy, or bitchy—terms that insist such feelings are ugly, undesirable, and unfeminine.

But rage, as the show proves, can be used in a positive way. The artists hope that their anger will have a very real impact on Trump's government: A portion of the proceeds made from sales will go towards ERA Coalition, an organization that works with Congress to fight for women's equality.

Broadly spoke to some of the women artists participating in Uprise/Angry Women to ask why they feel anger is important at a time like this and how it could be used to instigate political action.

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"The anger, frustration, and sadness of women and minorities is largely overlooked and dismissed," says Maggie Dunlap, who contributed a text-based piece that simply reads: "DISMISS WHO DISMISSES YOU." "We are often not taken seriously, or gaslighted [sic] into feeling like our emotions are unfounded and should be suppressed. I believe this exhibition challenges those ideas by defiantly asserting our right to be mad as hell—and even use emotions that are usually coded as 'weak,' such as grief, as tools of protest."

Indira Cesarine painting "PROTEST" in the studio. Photo courtesy of The Untitled Space

New York-based Andrea Mary Marshall, best known for her self-portraits, agrees. "Anger is normal. It is primal. It is a reflex action from another action or act. So, channeled properly, it can bring about positive creative results. A conversation, not confrontation. Creation from destruction."

Photographer Parker Day, whose acid-bright pictures capture other artists and creatives on the edges of society, says that she was taught to repress anger as she grew up. "My mother has a nasty temper and as the flames of her fury rose, mine did too, and I learned that I couldn't fight fire with fire," Day says. "But what is repressed must find a way to be expressed. I think anger is useful but it's a fuel that must be handled with great care. Often when anger is directed against an opposing force, it causes its opposition to fight back harder. I believe anger can be channeled in such a way that it gives strength to people, and to a cause."

"Sisters of Liberty" by Natalie White. Photo courtesy of The Untitled Space

Channeling anger into artwork is cathartic, but is it effective in bringing about change? Multimedia artist Natalie White hopes that that shows likeUprise/Angry Women can galvanize women into taking action. "Anger is useful because it makes me want to tell people they should be angry too, and maybe we can focus our energy together to change what makes us angry," she says. "This world is far from easy. If you aren't angry about something, you aren't paying attention."

"Anger is not just useful, it's vital," Rose McGowan tells Broadly. The director and Planet Terror actress is presenting her short Woman's Womb as part of the show. The short film is inspired by the story of Purvi Patel, the 36 year old jailed for feticide in Indiana after self-inducing a late abortion. Her original sentence of 20 years was successfully appealed in July last year, and the feticide charge vacated, though she remains in prison under a class D felony charge.

"So many women shove down their anger for fear of being displeasing," McGowan adds. "I say displease away, the world won't stop spinning...We must get angry, be angry, and stay angry to see true change. Playing nice hasn't exactly gotten us equality, has it?"

"Current Mood" by Jen Dwyer. Photo courtesy of The Untitled Space

Sophia Wallace, a New York-based artist known for Cliteracy, an ongoing art project that promotes better education about female sexuality, sees the exhibition as an chance to examine the way anger is depicted in the mainstream media.

"Post Trump's victory, many of us are hearing that we need to understand the anger of Trump voters. Blamed for Trump's win, Black Lives Matter and feminists activists in particular, have been singled out for distracting from the 'real issues' in America with our 'identity politics,'" she says.

"Apparently, being racially profiled, brutalized by police, sexually assaulted, paid less for the same work, and denied agency over our reproduction are [...] just cause for anger. Meanwhile, the proud anger of the Tea Party Movement galvanized the conservative base. So whose anger is valorized and whose is spurned? This is an interesting question."

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Uprise/Angry Women is a strong statement from women around the country--a show of solidarity that drives real action. "I staged this exhibit, because I was angry that the United States had elected a misogynist, racist, xenophobic future president," says Indira Cesarine, who runs The Untitled Space. She has created a work titled PROTEST for the show. The painting of female demonstrators points to the history and future of protest movements, and reminds us of the need to go out into the streets.

"This is an important time in history for women to join together in solidarity and fight for our rights," she says."I think anger is something we can all harness to keep the momentum going."

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