Carrie Mae Weems, Wangechi Mutu, and Other Female Artists Bring Feel-Good Protest Slogans to Times Square

The project began at January's Women's March.

House of Trees,
House of Trees, "Word on the Street" banner by Anne Carson + Amy Khoshbin, at the Women's March in Washington DC, 2017. Courtesy of House of Trees.

“Action Comes From the Backbone, Not the Wishbone.” That’s one of the messages that will be on view in Times Square in the coming months, as its many billboards and advertisements are joined by protest signs from women artists and writers. The word-art initiative is part of “Word on the Street,” a project of Times Square Arts and artist collective House of Trees, founded by Jennifer Khoshbin and Amy Khoshbin.

“We’ve asked poets and artists to respond to the politics of the day with a landscape of poetry; using phrases, art, and made-by-hand signage to inspire, and at times resist,” said House of Trees of the project in a statement. “At a time when language is being societally devalued, how can we as artists and writers use words creatively to rouse political action?”

To be fair, it is not clear what kind of political action House of Trees is hoping to provoke with the slogans, which, on the whole, are not overtly confrontational or specific. Passersby could be forgiven for thinking that slogans like “Imagination Births Courage Births Change Births Freedom,” “I Was Born For Love, Not Hatred,” and “If You’re Not Creating, You’re Simply Consuming; Create With Courage” are from an average ad for Levi’s.

House of Trees, "Word on the Street." Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

House of Trees, “Word on the Street.” Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

However, the “Word on the Street” slogans do have an interesting background. The ongoing initiative launched in January, when House of Trees brought the text-based signs, originally designed as wearable felt messages, to Washington, DC, for the post-Inauguration Day Women’s March, held simultaneously in hundreds of cities around the world.

Participants included Amy Khoshbin, artists Carrie Mae Weems and Wangechi Mutu, and poet Anne Carson, as well as text art pioneer Jenny Holzer, though Holzer is not included in the Times Square iteration.

Originally the slogans were made as banners in collaboration with Texas-based female refugee fabricators. The signs have since been displayed at New York’s Leila Heller Gallery, Kimmel Galleries at New York University, and the women-focused Whitney Houston Biennial (an event staged opposite the Whitney Biennial), in addition to being carried by marchers at various protests.

Now they have been reprinted on vinyl for Times Square, where they will appear as banners and printed on the side of garbage cans.

“’Word on the Street’ has brought us an incredible collection of female artists to literally bring the art of protest language and handcrafted imagery from the streets to the street poles and signage in Times Square, a public space known for free speech and expression,” said Times Square Arts director Debra Simon in a statement.

Amy Khoshbin's protest sign-making, "Workshop on the Street" for House of Trees's "Word on the Street." Courtesy of Amy Khoshbin.

Amy Khoshbin’s protest sign-making, “Workshop on the Street” for House of Trees’s “Word on the Street.” Courtesy of Amy Khoshbin.

When its initial run ends in February 2018, new signs featuring original artwork from notable female artists will debut in Times Square. There’s also a chance to make your own wearable felt banners and signage on September 7, when Amy Khoshbin will host “Workshop on the Street,” at the Broadway Plaza.

See more photos of the project in situ below:

House of Trees, "Word on the Street." Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

House of Trees, “Word on the Street.” Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

House of Trees, "Word on the Street." Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

House of Trees, “Word on the Street.” Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

House of Trees, "Word on the Street." Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

House of Trees, “Word on the Street.” Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

House of Trees, "Word on the Street." Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

House of Trees, “Word on the Street.” Courtesy of Maria Baranova for Times Square Arts.

“Word on the Street” is on view in Times Square, New York, August 29, 2017–February 2018.


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