I am a multidisciplinary artist and designer, I am a parent, and a partner. The primary medium of my work is education. I am a proud Rhode Island resident although I did not grow up here; something of which I am aware of on a near daily basis. I teach at Rhode Island School of Design in the Division of Experimental and Foundation Studies and I Co-Chair an MFA program in Graphic Design at Vermont College of Fine Arts [http://vcfa.edu/graphic-
I have a practice as a direct art activist and my collective uses art, design, performance, and experience as forms of nonviolent direct art action. Our collective is called Public Displays of Affection Collective [https://pdacollective.org/] and we organize nationally to create work that resists misogyny and racism among other important topics. [http://www.brickxbrick.org/] The combination of art, experience, and the human body is such a powerful way to ask challenging questions. Our work aims to foster community and to express complex feelings in response to traumas recreated by 45s assault on women’s bodies especially on freedoms of healthcare access and choice.
2. TWP has been working to pass a bill that codifies Roe v. Wade into RI state law.
We are interested in the ways that Reproductive Freedom impacts your life and the work that you do?
There’s a great limitation in the line of thought that ‘reproductive freedoms or feminisms in general impact only women’. They do not and they never have. I refer here to a quote by Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Lourde’s quote recognizes difference itself as connectivity and action and empowers the fact that we are an inseparable constellation of peoples and environment. Myself and my immediate family still have the privilege of access to healthcare (albeit paid out-of-pocket) including choices in providers. Many families and individuals do not. Until everybody has safe access, abundant education, and freedom of choice — reproductive freedom in Rhode Island impacts us all — regardless of gender or sexuality.
2a. What about the lives of the women in your personal life?
I immediately think of another quote by the extraordinary Audre Lorde. I could easily praise Lorde’s work all day long. Lorde says “Art is not living. It is the use of living.” My practice in both in academia and in nonviolent direct art action, work to create spaces where individuals can talk across differences. Our project Brick by Brick [http://www.brickxbrick.org/] has in the time since its creation in 2016 put hundreds of bodies in brick patterned jumpsuits. On the jumpsuits are different colored bricks using language that Trump has said about women and their bodies. What we are doing is standing in solidarity and silence against those words and in the process reclaiming our bodies, who we are, and what we believe.
A year ago, over 130 Brick x Brick performers performed at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington in DC building the single largest wall on the White House Ellipse. On Jan 20th, 2018, during the anniversary rally, we had 12 walls happening simultaneously in cities across the nation, so collectively we had well over 250 people in jumpsuits and vests. Last month Brick x Brick built walls in Austin, TX, Boston, MA, Columbus, OH, Greensboro, NC, Los Angeles, CA, Montpelier, VT, Nashville, TN, New Orleans, LA, New York City, NY, Providence, RI, San Francisco, CA, and St Louis, MO.
People who have never performed before come together for a common cause to defend women’s bodies including under-represented bodies through a highly visual form of direct art action. Since 45 wants to build other walls the image of a wall became a very powerful form of resistance, another way to use his words in protest and reclamation. One of the most incredible products of creating art is when it starts to live beyond your original intentions and I think that’s very much a case for Brick by Brick. Standing hand-in-hand in silence is a powerful action. Brick x Brick offers a visually dynamic, accessible, and creative space to contemplate and resist feelings of desperation and the unimaginable consequence that 45s dismantling of reproductive rights for women’s bodies and wellbeing would cause.
3. When you think about your community (or communities) what is something you would like them to know about Reproductive Freedom in RI? Why?
I would like people in my community to know that on the cornice of the RI State House is inscribed the statement,
“To hold forth a lively experiment
That a most flourishing civil state may stand
and best be maintained with full liberty
in religious concernments.”
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America echoed Roger Williams’ separation of church and state in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
Since its founding, Rhode Island has always been a progressive state. There are many legislators and individuals working to support reproductive health and accessibility. It is important to support local access for all, and it is important to have conversations with peoples and populations not like ourselves. There are many collectives, groups and organizers like The Woman Project, Fang Collective, Dirt Palace, Nancy Rafi, and many others in RI, that are making art, creating communities, and affecting policy that have the ability to directly affect lives.
4. What are the best ways in your opinion to educate people about this issue?
Making art, using design, and community building are the three methods that I find most effective in my practice and that continually hold my interest. I recognize that what I do individually is less effective than working in tandem with other artists, groups, collectives, and lawmakers. My teams and I are committed to taking action so that others unlike ourselves benefit. This practice includes and allegiance to intersectionality and accountability.
Art and design are a way to collapse the personal towards the seemingly unwieldy size of the political and governmental. There are some impossible and even dangerous policies being enacted daily. It helps me process what I can’t immediately stop or even understand at my personal scale. Through art and design I can more easily come into conversation with forces that seek to annihilate the security, safety, and well being of my body.
5. Is there anything else you would like to add?
There is no action that is too small or inconsequential. If you’re interested in direct art action or policy creation, get in touch with groups in your area, there is a lively network and people there is always work to be done. Joining in ways that can be helpful to already established groups is a wonderful way to start! Watching people work together, listening to many voices, can be one of the most gratifying practices.
Profile photo: Robin Ivy
All BxB photography and videograpy: Rafael Attias http://www.rafaelattias.com/