Mónica Mayer’s latest exhibit couldn’t be more timely. As accusations of sexual abuse and harassment shake up various industries – including film, theater, and media – the Mexican artist’s El Tendedero/The Clothesline Project invites women to share their own harrowing stories. At the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Clothesline after clothesline feature the anonymous message of women who have faced everything from unsavory comments to unwanted physical contact. Pink slips of paper ask the attendees,”Have you ever experienced violence or harassment? What happened?” and “As a woman, where do you feel safe?”
And though the project is especially poignant right now, it’s one that’s existed since 1978. At 8 years old, she became a victim of sexual assault. As she and her mother walked a few steps apart, a man in his 30s touched her inappropriately. “He touched my ‘pussy,’ as your president would say,” she told The Guardian. “I was shocked but I am even more shocked this is a common experience.”
The project began after she was commissioned to create art that responded to something she hated about Mexico City. For her, that meant the constant sexual harassment she encountered on the city’s public transportation.
In the nearly 40 years since she debuted the piece, she believes this behavior has worsened. So her current version of the piece includes new questions: “How do you recover your joy after going through an experience of violence?” and “What have you done or what could you do to stop violence against women?”
The project, which has made its way throughout Latin America, also brings attention to the gender-based violence that exists in the US. “We tend to think Mexico has a lot of harassment but whenever I do this project in the States, its just as bad,” she said. “I’m shocked about the level of violence.”
El Tendedero is on view until January 5 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, District of Columbia.