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Feminist Walls

By Camilo Salas

Feminist Collages NYC is a group of women organized to wheat-paste feminist phrases and gender-based violence data on the walls of New York City. But they don’t only exist here, there are all over Europe and Canada too. Their work is artistic, immediate, and is done at night time when authorities can’t find you, so a lot of their members prefer anonymity. In such a diverse and fierce group we thought we could find a few Latinas, and one of them named Alex, who’s 34 and work with kids, agreed to answer our questions.

“My parents are both Peruvian, but I was born and I grew up here in New York, I've been most of my life here. I did live in Valparaiso, Chile when I was 23 to 29 years. I loved it. I passed by traveling and stayed for six years.

 

The Feminist Collective started originally in France, I want to say maybe five years ago. And the first collages, and I think most of the beginning collages, are really specifically about femicide. They were memorials about specific femicides that were happening in France. And also we were kind of bringing awareness to that word, because I think in the news, at least over there, they don't use specifically the word femicide, they would just call it a murder and not even associate the fact that it would be gender-based violence.

 

So it started over there. I think it's spread very quickly. I know that there are many chapters in many different cities in France, and I know that from there it's also grown. There are groups everywhere from Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Montreal, and New York.

 

So I would say that, originally, it was kind of really about bringing awareness to femicide, domestic violence, and gender-based violence, but obviously the issues that come back have grown exponentially in each group, at least from what I've seen on social media because that's really the only way I can see what's happening in other cities,. But there are very clearly crossing themes happening over there and over here. Everything is very anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, and anti-police.

 

And obviously, if you look at New York specifically, we're screaming a lot about abortion, and the change of laws here recently, which is an issue everywhere. But something that we're feeling very much at home right now.

 

I began working at the collective because somebody sent me something online. So I actually was shared a post online before I saw a sign in the street. But it was something that someone sent to me because of specifics. What the slogan said was that a judge dismissed a rape case in Peru, because the victim was wearing red underwear. And I knew about that case. And so I knew exactly what they were talking about. And so I was immediately interested in who was behind that wheat pasting. When they sent me the post, I was able to see the profile of the group. And I didn't reach out immediately, but I ended up reaching out and I went to a session that they had organized, I believe it was a big memorial about all of the femicides that had taken place that year. They had all of the names in the database, of the thousands of femicides that had happened. So this would have been the year 2021, so all of the women that were killed in 2021 in the United States. Most of them are just anonymous, but they wrote ‘Anonymous' for every anonymous one. So they glued hundreds of just ‘Anonymous’ with the date they were murdered. I was really intrigued by that. And I personally had done lots of activism before, but I had never really done a more artistic aspect of it. That's what I personally found very interesting and why I wanted to get involved. Everyone has different interests and different things you can do in the collective as well. And because of my background, I just want to say things even louder. What I like to do is to come up with slogans. I write a lot of the stuff.

 

There are a lot of slogans that I can clearly tell are international slogans that other groups have done in their languages. So there are ones that I'm assuming originally just come from France. And then there's the memorial layout, a template that we would use for a victim of femicide, which is usually the name of the woman, their age, whatever happened to her, if she was stabbed, if she was shot, if she was strangled, specifically how she was murdered, and then whatever number femicide it is of the year. So 1.205 is the number of femicides in 2022 for example.

 

Our members are mostly artistic, but then obviously there are people like me who have very specific interests. So I have a lot of interest in cop stuff. So I've done a lot of research on domestic violence and cop families, cop-related statistics, and housing because these are issues that are also very important to this local area. New York has some of the worst homelessness rates in the country. And many of those people are women and children. I believe one in every ten kids in a New York City public school is homeless, which is a big, wild, shocking statistic, it's so high. And I research, a lot of incarceration, statistics. 80% of women in jail are mothers. How difficult it is to even have a relationship with a parent? Especially a mother that's in jail. Even phone calls are wildly expensive. But different members have different interests. Those are my personal interests. And I like to go do slogans about that. Some people are really dedicated to the abortion issue right now. The abortion issue is going to include everything, from sharing, which I think is really important that we share a lot of just websites, websites where literally any person who has access to the internet can order safe abortion pills online. So just leaving those websites up and reminding people even though it is still legal here in New York, there's a ripple effect. And it’s important to just have these resources and to share the information and the knowledge that safe abortions can continue to happen. We have that power to make sure that they keep happening. So we just have to remind people of that.

 

I would say everyone does different things. Some people are really more into just the actual physical painting of the letters in New York. We’ve started doing bi-monthly workshops at this incredible community center in Brooklyn that offered us the space basically every other Friday night. And through that, there are tons of people, but you have to remember the actual act of wheat pasting is technically illegal. We go out at night and do it, so there are a lot of people who are interested in participating but might not necessarily want or can risk doing that. A lot of these people go to the workshops and just paint the actual slogans. And then some people take the time to write the actual slogans, and we'll add them to the list. And we'll put the list out an idea, but obviously, if someone you know wants to paint something personal to them, it's more than encouraged. Also, the aesthetic is kind of what's carried over from France. If you look at even all the different cities, it's basically just black letters. Sometimes you'll use red, to exaggerate or put emphasis on a certain word. But it's basically just black block letters on regular white computer paper.

In New York is hard to say how many members we have. it has definitely grown a lot. Even in the amount of time that I've been there. I started last fall. So it was probably October, or November of 2021 and It was only a handful of people. And now I would say there are probably over 90 people in one big group chat. I know that there are a lot of people who've only participated in one session. And then there are very few people that are repeat members. But again, everything is very equal. Basically, if you've gone to a session, if you've read the manifesto, you're in the group chat and you're more than welcome to participate whenever you can and in whichever way you can. Some people just go to the workshops and paint the slogans, people who do things from home people and go out and glue, and some people just make the glue.

 

Besides me, there are at least 10 to 20 other Latinas and they're from different countries. We have Mexicans, Chileans and Puerto Ricans, Peruvians, and definitely other Central Americans. And a lot of New York Latino, a lot of first-generation Americans like me. Their parents might be from Latin America, but they were born here or in another American city. But obviously, it spread like wildfire when we started painting slogans in Spanish here in New York. I'm very specific about putting the Spanish slogans in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. There's intent with wherever you go and what you're putting up, where you put it up.

 

Regarding location on the streets, can be anywhere specific where you want to make a point about something that happened there. The first session that I organized, was outside of a public hospital in Brooklyn. So it was a wall facing the hospital. And less than a year earlier a black woman had died during childbirth there. But it was definitely a failure, systemic racism that was occurring in the hospital. It was a preventable death. And there were protests there, lots of protests outside of the hospital when it happened. The father has done many interviews, it's a well-known local case of what happened to this woman. So that's specific and we are going to go and make a point outside of this specific place to protest.

 

But usually, 9 out of 10 times, is wherever you see a nice wall. You're looking at walls, it usually has to do with walls. I’m assuming most people probably stick closer to home because we are carrying also heavy things. So if I live out in Queens, I'm not going to carry a gallon of glue up to Harlem. That's why people have started organizing near where they live, and different sub-group chats have formed. 10 people are living in Flatbush so the Flatbush people made their own group chat. Because that's also really far from a lot of places. But the fact that 10 people live there, they can have their own thing going on.

 

So it's really, mainly, wherever you see walls. But if you're trying to make a pointed statement at an institution, like the hospital, we have also done abortion slogans outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown Manhattan. That's also specific, we are making a point about the church. And then you know what the Spanish-speaking neighborhoods are, just make it a point to get the Spanish-speaking ones in that neighborhood and not somewhere where all Polish immigrants are.

 

We have been very lucky regarding the law. The worst that has happened is this: we were halfway through the slogan, and an undercover cop car came and we just had only posted ‘justice for Shireen’. It was a Palestinian journalist, that had been murdered. It was just right after it happened, but we were gonna put her full name. And we had just glued Shireen. And they start asking over and over again through the speaker, but from inside the car “who is Shireen” and then we just all walked in separate directions. They follow three people and they did take their names, but almost as a warning, they weren't given tickets, they weren't taken down. But even the taking of the names is still intimidating, “We're keeping tabs on you", you know what I mean? “We want to know, for whatever reason”, but again, we've been very lucky in regards to the cops. There are also levels of risky places to glue. I would say the subway, which is one of my personal favorites to go, is super risky. There are cops almost everywhere especially after the last subway shooting recently. Ever since that happened, there are now literally two cops on every platform of every station you can possibly imagine and almost 24 hours a day. So that's trickier. And there are also cameras everywhere, but at this point, there are cameras almost on every corner everywhere in the whole of New York, so I just feel we're surveilled by them. We leave our house anyway. So, obviously trying to cover your face is important. But yeah, we've been super lucky.

 

The worst experience from another group that I've heard of is the group in Montreal. They were arrested and given over $10,000 in fines. That was not minor. That was bad. They did l a whole fundraiser to try to pay off all of the funds they've been given. And that one was also beyond frustrating because, from what I understand, I don't even think the cops caught them. It was an angry neighbor who saw what they were doing and didn't like whatever they were doing and called the cops on them.

 

I feel the New York group has gotten so popular that I'm surprised. But there have not been new groups in Miami, San Francisco, or Chicago yet. In Europe, I think it spread quite quickly. But each city has its own style. I think someone told me that in California the fines can be much higher or much more severe, so different laws can vary from state to state and that just might make it far more sketchy than New York. I think New York is a very small space with a bunch of dumb cops that honestly are too busy or just not busy doing anything, or too busy doing other things, to be following this specifically. I’m surprised already with how many people have grown in the New York group in less than one year. I'm sure it just takes one person in one city. You know, just put up one thing, put one flyer and I think it will go very fast. I think there are some one thousand members just in France. France is definitely where you find the most. The Paris group, from what I understand, is even split up into sections in the city because it's so big. It has been growing, it certainly hasn't been getting smaller.

 

If you want to contact us, the way is to message us through the Instagram page, and then the communication will move off of that platform. And after reading the manifesto that was written, if you're in agreement with that, then you would get put in the main group chat where we are going to announce and organize sessions.

 

To keep doing what we're doing, honestly, the goal is to just do more. And with more members, we can cover more space and go out more often. It's something so simple to do. And once you get the hang of it, you realize it doesn't take a lot of money. And I found even the painting of the letters can be quite therapeutic. It's almost like journaling, in a sense. It's kind of slowing down your thoughts. I want to say this huge rant, but how can I really summarize what's the most pointed way of saying what I'm saying? and then take the time to paint it out and then go up and glue it. And I find that even when people go for the very first time if they're putting up something that they've painted themselves, they're already far more invested in it. That's why I try to encourage the first time people, to paint something that speaks to you at home, you're gonna have more feeling about it while gluing it up on the walls. And if you're gluing up something that I'm just handing you, I like seeing the “how” all of the different ideas have grown and even like the posts on the group page, because there are several of us now running the group page, even the posts have different styles, different themes. There's definitely a lot of thought put behind it into the captions and the resources that we share. The main goal with social media is just being able to share resources for everything, from domestic violence to abortion. Now, that is a really big deal”.

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