Interactive Window Installation to Boost Women’s Rights
By April 24, 2023 0 1034•
Up Wisconsin Avenue, where Chevy Chase window shoppers stroll – and across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue near Tiffany & Company – a provocative “community photo-collage installation” has been installed by the “RightNOW!” project. Mounted inside the glazed storefront at 5510 Wisconsin Ave. NW, the display’s purpose is to help “support Women’s Rights worldwide” by creating “action for awareness to change.”
British-American artist and a founder of the Chevy Chase Arts group Ch/ART, Kirsty Little – she’s also a Guinness Book of World Records Holder, but more on that later – launched the evolving project shortly after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last June overturning a “woman’s right to choose.” Subsequent world news of regressive laws oppressing women and girls in Afghanistan, Iran, and around the globe spurred her along further. The project’s most recent focus has been to showcase local protesters supporting the women and girls of Iran.
On Sunday, April 23, RightNOW! held an opening at the installation site in partnership with the local group National Solidarity Group of Iran (NSG Iran) which sponsors weekly protests in the D.C. area to call attention to the growing and revolutionary “Women, Life, Freedom” movement in Iran. The event showcased RightNOW!’s most recent addition to their evolving window installation: 58 photo montages on wooden hangers of spliced full-length photo portraits of protesters outside of the Iranian Interests Section at the Embassy of Pakistan last weekend. This particular window display has now been added to the nearly 1000 other hanging portrait-splices of supporters of women’s rights around the world accompanied by an LED scrolling feed with news items headlining acts of oppression – now seen by window shoppers along Wisconsin Avenue.
Attendees at the opening heard speeches from artist and organizer Kirsty Little as well as the leader of NSG Iran, Dr. Siamak Aram, while they browsed RightNOW!’s merchandise, sipped tea and coffee and chatted with supporters.
“I would like to thank all of you who’ve had your photo taken to be included in the project,” Little said to the audience. “This is about worldwide women’s equality. And we’re so happy to be able to join together with “Women, Life, Freedom” and have a moment to put their work in the window and to support the poor girls in Iran who are being gassed right now and who are suffering all the various inequalities there… This is absolutely the point of this project!”
“It’s been more than 6 months that we’ve been holding different events in the Washington, D.C. area,” Dr. Aram of NSG Iran told attendees. “We’ve been holding protests, events, demonstrations, and different rallies to be the voice of the people in Iran and to support the important message of “Women, Life, Freedom” … against the Islamic regime. That’s why RightNOW! found us and introduced us to this brilliant and amazing idea to put together the pictures of the protesters who are fighting for women’s rights in Iran.”
The Georgetowner spoke with Kirsty Little to learn how she was inspired to launch RightNOW!
A creative mind with unique background, Little began as an aerial artist (holding a Guinness world record for directing and performing with the “Most Aerialists Choreographed on Silks”.) Later, she explored women’s struggles and gendered roles in history through steel/wax tapestry works. Then, at the height of the pandemic, a stroll with her daughter sparked the idea. “I was wondering around with my daughter going window shopping and everything everywhere was just closed, and these buildings are closing down, and it was just depressing. I felt like the world had ended anyway and it wasn’t like you could even go and see a nice pair of shoes [laughs].”
But, after the Supreme Court’s Dodd ruling, the “air just left the room” and Little knew she had to focus on women’s struggles for rights not only in the United States but around the world. She had founded Ch/ART — one of the key sponsors of the RightNOW! project — with two other friends in 2018 and the organization grew to 182 members and she wanted to use the connections she had established and networking possibilities to create a movement through art. She had also been reading deeply about how women suffragists had “used their bodies in protest.” And so the idea of the hanging portraits in support of women’s rights began to take shape.
And, the storefront displays at 5510 Wisconsin Ave. NW became available because the building will soon be demolished, so the artistically-minded owner of the building, Chad Donahue, was willing to offer a $1 lease. But, despite the state of the structure, the window installation will be seen by approximately 30,000 passersby (on the sidewalks and in automobiles) per day.
Instead of overwhelming viewers with the RightNOW! displays, Little wanted the installations infused with subtlety. So, the background of vibrant red is offset by the inviting and “fashionable” colors of the portrait collages with smiling faces, designed to “lure” passersby who might think from a distance they’re approaching a fashion modeling showcase. Of course, hangers are a traditional symbol of the pro-abortion rights movement, but the wooden hangers in this exhibit would come from Mazza Gallerie – recently demolished up the street – so their symbolism would be more subtle. The portraits are also spliced together to suggest the common humanity of all the protesters and participants — a diversity of genders, races, ethnicities, etc.
“It was tempting to do a whole blood-splattered window or something dramatic,” Little said. ‘But,’ I said ‘No, let’s do something that has that balance that I like to play with in my work that’s sort of the ugly/beautiful thing.’ So if you stroll past these windows you glance and you go, ‘hey, that’s sort of fun.’ It’s sort of mis-matched. What’s that about? They look like models but they’re not. Is it a Bennetton window? But then when you read about it you find out that girls are getting gassed in Iran and girls in Afghanistan are being denied school from age 6-plus and women in Africa are having their vulvas cut off…. And at that point abortion becomes just one of many issues. And if we can’t get it right in America how on earth can we get it right in other countries? So that was when the whole photograph thing came to light and then the half photograph I think of representing a woman who’s not completely in control of her body and the half photo became the thing.”
As guests arrived from the opening, Little’s artistic partner, Becky McFall, chairperson of Ch/ART, was busy hanging new photo montages in the installation. She and Little “thought it would be a cool thing interactively to have people seeing us putting up” the pieces, “so we started to prep [the exhibit] to put it up… The premise is that we’re amassing a body of support to show that women are not fully represented… half portraits, segmented.”
“I think it’s nice to see how many people are standing up to represent women and everybody can see a little bit of themselves in all of these portraits as well,” McFall said. “You can tell a lot about people from their willingness to participate in a project like this, sight unseen. A lot of people we just met at the sites we visited and they only found out about that project at the very moment and the amount of support we’ve had for this project has really been overwhelming…. the whole point of this project is to encourage people to just do something. Just take some action. Whether it’s just standing up for a photo or going to look at a website or reading the newspaper so that you’re not just oblivious to what’s going on in the world.”
What makes the exhibit so powerful? “The connection between the politics and the art is a different way to communicate with the people because art is very close to the heart of the people,” Dr. Aram told The Georgetowner.
RightNOW! at 5510 Wisconsin Ave. NW runs through April 30.