Braving a surprise Minnesota downpour, it was a packed house for Forecast Public Art and Electric Machete Studios’ hosted talk by Mujeres Grabando Resistencias (Women Engraving Resistance) on November 18, 2016 at Forecast Public Art’s Saint Paul headquarters.

Mujeres Grabando Resistencias is a group of 10-21 women from various backgrounds and creative practices who come together in studio and workshop space in Mexico City to create work that promotes social justice, specifically focused on the experience of women in public spaces. Typically, their collective work emerges as graphic poster campaigns resulting in limited edition, large-scale prints that the collective gives away for free. Their work has reached many places across the world and they all expressed interest in partnering with more communities – including Minnesota.

Andrea Narno Híjar, the collective’s youngest member articulated a narrative that many women know well, that “women face many problems around the world and we share those problems.” The group shared experiences about violence against women, the experiences of women in public spaces, and safety and access in public spaces. Sadly, these injustices are real and they happen all over the world and the audience was familiar with this story. Especially as women in our society. Andrea confirmed, “We want to take back these spaces.”

As the group discussed their experiences and how they were working together to use artmaking in public spaces – “wheat-pasting posters” with messages, it reminded me of the intersection of art/safety/placemaking and how women’s experience of public spaces is often ignored. Street harassment and intimidation are facts of life for most women, including many women I know and myself. Yet, for the most part, city and government planners, urban planners and public space creators, or “creative placemakers”, rarely discuss or consider a woman’s unique experience in these spaces. YES, let’s take them back. How? Art seems like a viable action.

Mujeres Grabando Resistencias next poster campaign is about self-care. #vivasnosqueremos means “alive we want ourselves”. The group wanted to create something that empowers and communicates the message. “This had to happen, they shared, not just something casual,” Mariana Sasso Roja shared.

The structure of the collaborative was similar to how groups of artists convene and commune to create in the US – the members all had other, paying jobs and not any formal funding and are gathering around an issue, an idea, a material or the need for solidarity or collaboration in a community. This is a similar setup for American artists where often we have other employment outside of our creative practice. The group works collaboratively, not individually and the artwork is not signed by individual artists. It was interesting to hear of our similar approaches and Mariana Sasso Rojas confirmed “we are equals, and we are not government, we are the people.”

Mariana Sasso Rojas mentioned the adage: “We Didn’t Cross the Border, the Border Crossed Us” which is more timely than ever. You can follow their work and participate in the campaign easiest by connecting with Mujeres Grabando Resistencia on Facebook

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Special thanks to McKnight Foundation for helping make this event possible.