Street artists have the unique opportunity of making public space their canvas ― spreading their visual messages to those who may not otherwise enter a museum, gallery, or auction house.
For street artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, her work’s public habitat is doubly important since her stunning murals often confront the injustices that, for too many individuals, threaten the ability to roam safely through streets, alleys, and other public spaces.
In her most well-known series, “Stop Telling Women To Smile,” Fazlalizadeh fights against street harassment, the often overlooked form of verbal and psychological abuse that makes women feel judged, objectified and unsafe simply for moving through this world in a woman’s body. Each image features a confrontational message from a woman to her harasser, a message like “My name is not Baby,” or “Women are not seeking your validation.”
On Monday, Fazlalizadeh posted an Instagram photo of a new mural, which appears to be part of the “Stop Telling Women To Smile” series, on Los Angeles’ Venice Boardwalk. The mural features a woman’s black-and-white portrait with the words “My womanhood is not up for debate” written beneath it.
Fazlalizadeh captioned the image #blacktranslivesmatter.
The murals, like so much of Fazlalizadeh’s imagery, speak in confrontational and unapologetic terms. And yet there is simultaneously a humanizing softness to the portraits themselves, reminding people who might have sexist, racist, xenophobic, or homophobic biases of our shared humanity. Whether depicting a young trans woman or a grandmother in a hijab, Fazlalizadeh’s work invites passersby to make eye contact with the people so often deemed “other,” perceiving their vulnerability, beauty, and strength.
This is the second new artwork we’ve seen from Fazlalizadeh since the November election of Donald Trump. The first, a mural mounted in Oklahoma City, featured an unambiguous message for white America, reading: “America is black. It is Native. It wears a hijab. It is a Spanish speaking tongue. It is migrant. It is a woman. It is here. Has been here. And it’s not going anywhere.”
“This piece was done specifically to challenge whiteness and the accepted idea of who an American is,” Fazlalizadeh wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. “This work is located in Oklahoma, a very red, Republican state. The site of this piece is just as important to its intent. This work is declaring that people who are non-white and male are a part of this country, are integral to this country, and are not going anywhere.”
As the country waits with bated breath to see exactly what a Trump presidency will mean ― for people of color, trans people, queer people, and women especially ― artists like Fazlalizadeh remind us of just how powerful creative expression is as a mode of resistance and a vehicle for hope.