A CATALYST FOR CHANGE
I have spent the majority of my career focused on issues in the lives of American women. My goal has been to create beauty, comfort and a little humor to help us through the challenges of life. My intent has always been to empower women; I have never advocated playing the victim. However, when the #MeToo movement came along, I was forced to visit that dark place in my brain where I store tough memories. I don’t talk about most of these memories because they are embarrassing and they make me angry. Instead I put the anger to work as a catalyst for art.
After the 2016 presidential election, I told my daughter that artists would need to step up and help people get through the rough times ahead: this is our job. I knew I had to distill what was happening into work that would soothe and make people think. A mental image of male hands grabbing at women kept haunting me. While I was pondering how to depict the hands for this piece, I was reminded of a song by Frank Zappa titled, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. It has no lyrics, so I borrowed it for my idea. Men’s work gloves were chosen to depict the male aspects of my design. An old and very crude reference to a woman’s vagina as her coin purse suggested I use coin purses to represent the feminine parts. The purses are surrounded by animated gloves; some of the coin purses are mature flowers in full bloom, symbolizing strong, older women who are harassment survivors. The smaller purses, half open and filled with fur, symbolize young, naïve and vulnerable women. I intentionally used materials that were visually and tactilely irresistible—soft leather, fur and feathers.
I don’t know if Sexual Harassment in the Workplace will change how people think but I know that good art holds that possibility. In the 1970s when the public first saw Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, undoubtedly some people were offended by the frank sexuality of the work. It is a celebration of goddess culture and famous women throughout history. It changed the way that we talk about women’s sexuality and it gave young women like me the green light to address female issues in our art. I remember seeing pictures of it when I was in college and being stunned. Recently I got to see the real thing at the Brooklyn Museum and I was awed by the beauty, the craftsmanship, and how the content continues to be relevant forty-five years later.
Nancy Worden’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace is part of the exhibition “You Got the Look,” at the Center on Contemporary Art, 114 3rd Ave., S., Seattle, Washington 98104, November 23 - December 22, 2018.