Persistence of Mammary

Local exhibit ‘Still They Persist’ chronicles the protest art from recent women’s and human rights marches

click to enlarge Persistence of Mammary
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
When Sara M. Vance Waddell asked via Facebook two weeks before the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. for protest signs and posters for a future exhibition, she had no idea how immense the response would be. And such was the response across America and the world: What began as a political march on the capitol on Jan. 21, 2017 became the largest single-day protest in American history. An estimated five million people protested globally, on all seven continents.

Across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, millions of photos of protest art began appearing. Some of the posters used during the Women’s March on Washington were tongue-in-cheek, such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun-Damental Human Rights” and “Donald Trump Uses Comic Sans.” Others reflected how women have been fighting for equal rights for decades — one image appeared online of an older woman holding a simple cardboard poster reading, “Ninety, Nasty and Not Giving Up.” 

“The response was so overwhelming,” Waddell says. 

As a self-proclaimed collector of art by women artists and artists of color, Waddell originally wanted to mount an exhibition featuring the protest art at her home gallery, but before long she had received more than 150 pieces. Realizing that the project was blossoming and that she needed to present the curated art to the public, she leaned on others for help. 

“I reached out to (CityBeat arts critic, curator and professor) Maria Seda-Reeder to help me curate it,” Waddell says. “I then pulled Jaime Thompson from the CAC and Cal Cullen from Wave Pool in to help travel the exhibition and everything that goes with that. I love nicknames, so I dubbed us ‘FemFour’ and off we went.” 

Wave Pool — where the exhibit will be mounted through June 24 — describes in a gallery note that the aim of Still They Persist: Protest Art from the 2017 Women’s Marches is to keep “the words and images made and deployed by human rights advocates, who took to the streets of cities around the country this past January, circulating within the public sphere.” 

The exhibit features posters, textiles, sculptures, photo documentation from the day of the protest and other ephemera. Contributing artists include Lizzy DuQuette, Donelle Estey, Gigi Gatewood, Christine Dianne Guiyangco, Rebecca Allan, Inna Babaeva, Hannah Barnes, Colin C Boyd, Skylar Davis and many others. 

“My very favorite piece is from Donelle Estey — and it’s one that says ‘Resist’— but there are so many that feel so special, not as precious objects as much as them feeling like a living archive of people who are politically engaged,” Seda-Reeder says.

The art is as diverse as the message was the day of the protest. While the protests centered on the inauguration of President Donald Trump, activists also advocated for global human rights issues, such as racial equality, women’s rights, health care reform, reproductive health rights, global warming and LGBTQ rights. 

“The major themes we picked to frame the exhibition as well as the catalog are the areas we saw most folks responding to in the pieces: confronting the bully; objects of resistance; our bodies, our selves; the limits of white feminism; artists respond; (and) democracy through craft,” Seda-Reeder says.

This sentiment is echoed in the press release for the show: “This collection of powerful imagery and words speaks to the very essence of what true freedom might look like for every American.”

“We all decided to call the exhibition Still They Persist, since protests will be ongoing as long as Trump is in the White House,” Waddell says. 

If that phrase sounds familiar, you may have seen it on a bumper sticker or lifted up through social media. The saying caught fire after Senate Republicans silenced Senator Elizabeth Warren during her speech critiquing then-attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions. Warren quoted a letter from Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., originally used to dispute Sessions’ judicial nomination three decades back. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then used a little known and little-used Senate rule about “impugning” another senator to stop Warren from speaking. 

Afterward, many took issue with the ruling and took to social media with the hashtag #LetLizSpeak. McConnell remarked, “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

The phrase struck a chord with the millions who had protested during the Women’s March. In Cincinnati, graffiti has appeared with a raised fist bearing the word “PERSIST” beneath it across buildings in Northside and downtown. When Tattoo Makers in Cheviot hosted a Planned Parenthood benefit with feminist tattoo flash art, women came in to ink the word “persist” on to their skin.

This is the fire and energy that the FemFour and Waddell want to continue to stoke. After Wave Pool, the exhibit will travel the country, as the protests did. Still They Persist will be on display at the Lexington Art League July 28-Aug. 13 and the Contemporary Arts Center Oct. 9-22, with more locations being scheduled. 

“I love all of the art we have collected,” Waddell says.


STILL THEY PERSIST is on display at Wave Pool (2940 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington) through June 24. More info: wavepoolgallery.org

For more protest-inspired art, visit Andrea Bowers: Womxn Workers of the World Unite! at the Contemporary Arts Center through June 18. The Ohio-born, Los Angeles-based Bowers has created an exhibit at the intersection of social justice, political activism and art making. With a focus on the feminist movement and its evolution, including trans-feminism, the art featured reactivates political graphics, photography, signs and other protest imagery. Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, contemporaryartscenter.org