I Marched in Lara Schnitger’s Feminist Protest Parade at Frieze New York. Here’s What It Was Like
Frieze has its #MeToo moment.
The chanting started softly, a mere whisper, but soon grew in volume. “A dress is not a yes!” we chanted as we marched through the aisles of Frieze New York, clad in jumpsuits and 20th-century suffragette-inspired dresses designed by Lara Schnitger. We were participating in her performance art piece, Suffragette City, a feminist protest/procession being staged by New York’s Anton Kern Gallery as part of the fair’s new “Live” section.
“I’m an artist, and it’s been very much a male world,” Schnitger, who held her first Suffragette City performance in 2015, told artnet News. “At the art fairs, there are still many more male artists than female artists. Equal pay has always been difficult. I’ve always been interested in these topics.”
For the procession, Schnitger crafted a series of sculptures and quilts—delicate textiles, some bleached or adorned with lace or sequins. Each was hoisted high by volunteers who were enlisted via NYFA and the gallery’s Instagram.
The “Live” section theme is “Assembly,” and is inspired by protest and collectivity. Schnitger’s piece is accompanied by works by Alfredo Jaar, Hank Willis Thomas, Dave McKenzie, Raúl de Nieves with Erik Zajaceskowski, Adam Pendleton, and Renée Green, all curated by Adrienne Edwards.
Many of the individual pieces in Suffragette City are reminiscent of lingerie, or bondage suits. “I was inspired by slut parades, where women go into the streets in their sluttiest outfits,” said Schnitger.
She sees the sculptures on tall poles almost as voodoo sticks, which the marchers hold in front of themselves for protection, as if to say “I don’t want to be touched.”
The piece also manages to have a distinct religious air, reminiscent of a ceremonial procession full of devotional objects—there is a sculpture on a palanquin that Schnitger referred to as “the little goddess.”
Outside of the performances, Schnitger’s work is on view in the Frieze Live booth, where a selection of her sculptures is accompanied by an interactive sequin-graffiti wall. Visitors are invited to “write” on the wall, flipping over the sequins to express their feelings and emotions.
Frieze is only the second place the artist has performed Suffragette City in the US. “I did it at the Hammer Museum the weekend after the 2016 election,” Schnitger said. “That’s when it started turning from a procession into a protest. So many people were upset that Hillary had lost. They joined in with their own signs, and the shouting started. People really wanted to have their voice heard.”
“At Frieze, I’ve added a special performance element inspired by the ‘whisper network,’ of women who warn each other about certain people who you should not be alone with,” Schnitger explained. “I want to create that whispering feeling in our procession.”
Two of the performers started each chant as a whisper, growing in volume until the entire procession was shouting phrases like “don’t let the boys win” and “love your boobs” in unison. The effect was disruptive, a discordant note reminding fair-goers of how several big-name art-world figures—more than one of whom was in attendance at the fair’s opening day—have fallen from grace since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last fall.
Typically, Schnitger has held Suffragette City outdoors, but she felt like Frieze was a natural extension of the project. “An art fair has a bit of the feeling of the streets, as if this is a city of its own,” she said.
Interested parties can participate the remaining performances, at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday and 3 p.m. Saturday, by emailing the gallery or checking in at the Frieze Live booth at least an hour ahead of time.
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