Word on the Street
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is not your baby. Neither are the other countless women who the native Oklahoman is speaking up for in her art series, Stop Telling Women to Smile.
It can be difficult to be a woman in the world. Whether in large cities or small towns, it is not uncommon for a woman walking on the street to be verbally harassed. This experience can be threatening, unsettling and intrusive. Tatyana has had enough of it.
“Street harassment is something that I experience a lot. It makes me angry and it bothers me—and I felt that I needed to address it in my art,” says Tatyana. In 2012, she took her movement directly to the people of New York where she witnessed gender-based street harassment occurring on a daily basis. Tatyana met with women from various backgrounds to discuss their personal struggles with the issue. She then photographed them and brought their stories to life with posters that are illustrated from the women’s pictures. The posters were then posted outside. One of the posters features a tagline stating “my name is not baby, shorty, sexy, sweetie, honey…” and other popular street terms that many women have become all too familiar with. “My goal was simply to speak out in an artistic way—for myself and other women who’ve experienced street harassment,,” she says.
What started as a protest in her local neighborhood, grew to be a national sensation. Through the power of social media, Tatyana’s work garnered an immediate and overwhelming response. One retweet turned into thousands and before she knew it, her personal declaration against street harassment turned into a public forum that finally addressed an age-old form of harassment that is too often veiled as compliments that women should graciously accept. “I knew that women would relate to it, but I didn’t realize the extent,” she says.
The past year has been a whirlwind for the twenty-nine-year-old artist. Her work has been covered on CNN, featured in the New York Times and numerous other media outlets. She was recently named one of Forbes magazine’s Top 30 under 30.
Tatyana created a platform that allowed her to safely tell her story. What she was not expecting was for her story to also reveal the struggles of so many women. “I didn’t realize it would reach so far so quickly. It happened overnight and I wasn’t expecting that.” This is where the power of Tatyana’s art thrives: her personal experiences transcend beyond the lines of her drawings. These are stories that belong to women around the world. They’re images that belong to her community. “I want to create art that is useful to people,” she says. “I want to be an artist for the people.”
The goal of the project also expanded after the positive response. “The goal has evolved to just wanting people to have a dialogue about it and wanting these men who perpetrate to stop and consider these posters and how they interact with women.” She’s taken her posters from the boroughs of New York to various cities around the globe.
Tatyana has partnered with a number of different organizations to help raise awareness on the issue of street harassment. Her work has also seen her gain acclaim from some of America’s brightest minds. “College students are extremely engaged and they ask really good questions,” she says. “These are students who are already invested in thinking about women’s rights and feminism. Also, college campuses have very particular issues with sexual assault so these students are also engaged because of that.”
Tatyana says that men can also play an important role in ending gender-based street harassment. “Step in and help women if you see them experiencing street harassment.” She hopes that people will think twice the next time they see someone who catches their eye. “Just offer a simple hello and keep it moving,” she says. “Women don’t owe you anything. We’re not outside to entertain you.”
Creating thought-provoking dialogue through art is nothing new for Tatyana. Born and raised in Oklahoma City, she earned a scholarship to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. She was able to expand her skill at the university and continued her artistic growth once graduating in 2007. “The past few years I’ve grown more into an adult and an artist. I’ve found the direction that I want to go.”
While the series continues to garner critical acclaim across the country, Tatyana is hoping to continue expanding the work internationally. She’s gearing up for international Anti-Street Harassment Week in April. “I just want to let the project live on outside.” Part of the process will be letting the project flourish on its own which can be difficult for the artist. “It’s not mine anymore,” she says. “It’s hard for me to grasp, but ultimately rewarding. I’m creating it, but it’s not just for me. I can’t be everywhere so I have to let women have it and use it.”
For more of Tatyana’s work, visit www.tlynnfaz.com.