Hey Stranger, Stop Telling Me To Smile

Anti-Street Harassment Art
Image: Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

You hear it all the time. Hey baby, smile for me a little bit. Why are you so upset? Come on I know how to make you feel better. Some women decide to respond to the constant teasing, cat-calling and harassment with a cold shoulder. Brooklyn based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh took her resistance to the streets. Her project “Stop Telling Women to Smile” places portraits of women, defiant and impactful, in the very spaces where strangers have hounded her. The real power of Fazlalizadeh’s work, however, is not in reliving those moments of fear, but in allowing women to fight back.

The Daily Beast: “Stop Telling Women to Smile” developed from your experiences with street harassment, and has grown into a larger commentary on how women are treated and expected to act in the public spaces they occupy. You’ve lived in many settings—you grew up in Oklahoma, lived most of your life in Philly, and just recently moved to Bed-Stuy, where you began this art project. Why did you conceptualize this as a public art piece and how were you informed by the various public spaces you have lived in?

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: I am primarily an oil painter, but for the past couple of years I worked on a large mural project that allowed me to interact more with the public space. Street harassment is something I have wanted to work on for a while, and I toyed around with sketches and ideas for oil paintings, but it didn’t come out the way I wanted to until I took it outside. But that’s just the site of it; the actual work involved talking to women about their experiences with street harassment and then drawing their portraits. I put them up in Bed-Stuy because that is where I live and spend most of my time. It is an excuse for me to ride my bike around Brooklyn at night to put these up. But I have ventured this project out to Chicago, Harlem, Philadelphia and D.C. I can remember even when driving my car in Oklahoma, being approached and harassed by men. I wasn’t aware it was street harassment; I didn’t even start using the term ‘street harassment’ until a year ago. Before it was just men trying to holler at me . . .

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