Why Are Female Street Artists Under-Represented at the Bowery Houston Wall? [OP-ED]

Posted on: June 5th, 2017 at 5:15 am by

At the Bowery Wall, July 2008

The following opinion piece was written by street artist activist Ann Lewis.

Since 2008, Goldman Properties has curated, funded, and promoted nearly 20 murals on the Bowery Houston Wall to honor the memory of Keith Haring, who first painted the original concrete slab in 1984.

In that time, 21 artists have been honored with this incredible opportunity.

Guess how many of those artists have been women?

Three. Three whole women. That’s less than 15%. To put it into perspective, that’s actually less than the average percentage of solo exhibitions of women’s work at all of the major modern/contemporary NYC art museums from 2007-2014. We all know from the Guerrilla Girls work that these institutions don’t have exemplary records on gender equality. Don’t get me started on transgender or nonbinary artists, because, well, there’s simply nothing to say. Zero artists of that demographic have been given the career-changing opportunity to paint the Bowery Houston Wall.

We all know sexism is a thing; like a real thing; like an inherent bias thing. But really? This is public art in New York City and Goldman Properties is run by a woman. I expect more from Jessica Goldman. Not only because she is a woman in a position of power in the art world, but because this is the statement the organization stands by:

With each rebirth the wall’s program will broaden and reach out further to include established and emerging street artists from the United States and around the world who have a powerful message of hope, possibility and inspiration to young and old.

There are nods to inclusivity and hope within this statement. What do we say to our daughters, our transgender children, our students? Is there really a message of hope and possibility for them on this wall when we only see men painting it? The community deserves to see at least 50% of the artists on this wall be female or transgender. They deserve to see more artists of color (less than half of the artists have been people of color). It’s a public wall; it should, therefore, reflect the demographic of the public. And dare I say it should also present more challenging subject matter.

It’s 2017, and Grabber-in-Chief Trump is our president. Are we really sitting by and allowing our public art to pretend as though things are just fine the way they are? Shall we pretend that we’re not all screaming on the inside? Shall we pretend that the artist who has most recently finished the wall is not a self-proclaimed rapist?

I can’t pretend. I can’t look the other way when a self-professed rapist (as per Buzzfeed and xoJane) gets an opportunity and a woman doesn’t. I refuse to accept a rape apologist’s stammers about lockerroom talk when defending our current president, and I further refuse to stay silent when someone like David Choe is given such an opportunity. In 2014, Choe boldly described in graphic detail on his podcast horrific acts he allegedly did to his female masseuse. He later backpedaled by claiming stories on the show were just that, and “not a representation of my reality,” which is unbelievable at best and horrendously callous regardless of his truth. This man does not belong on the Bowery Houston Wall as an artist, he belongs in prison with rapists. It is deeply troubling to see a woman of such power like Goldman celebrate a man who has allegedly exerted his nefarious power over women without consent. Do we really still need to have this conversation in 2017? Apparently the dead horse still needs beating.

With all that said, I hope Goldman Properties re-evaluates their selection process of the artists with whom they work, and what they offer to the public. This is an amazing opportunity to truly honor the community in its most incredible and diverse beauty, so they should seize it. If perhaps, they need some suggestions of powerful women artists who belong on that wall, they can give me a call. I’ve got binders full.

But here’s a short list to get started:

Nina Chanel Abney
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Vexta
Faith 47
Shamsia Hassani
TIKA
Guerrilla Girls
LMNOPi
Jess X Chen

Recent Stories

Developer Begins Demolition of Rutgers Street Playground for Temporary Parking Lot

Demolition work began this week on a Lower East Side park that is a focal point in the tension between the community and developers on the waterfront. The backhoes are out and job now underway at Rutgers Park, the small public space beside the Lands End II residential development. Removal of the playground began yesterday, including […]

The 3 Lower East Side Walk-ups that Sold for $35M

Earlier this month, we reported that SMA Equities, the Long Island real estate firm with controversial history on the Lower East Side, sold a portfolio of its area properties. SMA unloaded three tenement walk-ups to Daniel Fishman of GAIA Real Estate – 102 Norfolk Street, 177 Ludlow Street, and 99 Allen Street – for an […]

H&M Debuts Pop-up Hotel on the Bowery this Weekend

Fashion retailer, H&M, is headed to the Lower East Side this week with a pop-up hotel concept. Starting tomorrow, prospective guests can access the so-called Hotel Hennes via the eponymous 3 Freeman Alley. The three-day publicity stunt will be open through Saturday, from 2 to 9pm. Guests will be able to check in for an […]

Sneakerhead Arrested for Knifing Customer at Hypebeast ‘HBX’ Opening on Division Street

A watershed moment for Hypebeast transformed into a melee on the Lower East Side last week. The Hong Kong-based fashion and lifestyle publication on Friday officially debuted in the seven-story commercial loft building at 41-43 Division Street. Its ground-level store – dubbed HBX – attracted a queue of sneaker heads waiting for a limited edition Nike […]

Arsonist Torches Eldridge Street Beauty Parlor

Two people were injured yesterday evening after an arsonist set ablaze a beauty parlor on Eldridge Street, according to several published reports. The incident transpired shortly before 5:00pm at the Sa Sa II Beauty Salon, located at 129 Eldridge Street. Cops said the suspect poured gasoline inside the store and set it on fire. (Initial […]