“No Means No” Performance Brings Bloody Handprints to Houston-Bowery Wall

“Resist!” and “No Means No!” were the messages at the Houston-Bowery Wall on Sunday as the sun descended at the end of the weekend while a silent and dramatic performance organized by Jasmine Wahi played out before it and on it. Whether or not people had accepted artist David Choe’s apology a day earlier for “rapey” talk and personal storytelling implicating himself (the verdict is decidedly mixed) the larger issue of dangerous and corrosive attitudes about rape in cultures across the world still remains powerfully relevant.

While this particular Houston-Bowery mural lasted the briefest amount of time of any that we can remember and wall owner Goldman Properties decided to buff it completely after less than two weeks with no comment, the roughly 20-person performance brought a myriad of issues alive with the simplest addition of dripping “bloody” red hand prints on the fresh white wall.

With rape culture at the forefront, many other conversations are in play here – women’s parity in the art world, misogyny in general – and the rising heat that accompanies this first day of summer only stirs the moments’ discontent. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail eventually but it doesn’t look like it right now. In analyzing these images by The Dusty Rebel you may say that Sundays’ stoicism facing a busy city street spoke more to a sincere grief and a steely determination to see change than simply a dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Photographer and NYC street culture documenter Daniel Albanese aka The Dusty Rebel was there during the performance, shooting photos and video and talking to people. He shares his observations and theirs along with these images and video for BSA readers today.

No Means No. Bowery / Houston Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 18, 2017. (photo © The Dusty Rebel)

Research, photos, video by Daniel Albanese aka The Dusty Rebel

Earlier this month, New York’s most legendary wall was given to the controversial artist David Choe. The artist who rose to fame painting Facebook’s office came under fire for a 2014 podcast, in which he told a detailed story about raping a masseuse. While the artist claimed it was “bad storytelling”, many critics believed the curators of the Bowery Wall were perpetuating rape culture by giving Choe such a prominent platform.

The mural was immediately covered in tags, and eventually buffed. After two weeks of silence, Choe finally released a statement addressing the controversy. A protest—which was planned before Choe’s apology—was organized by curator Jasmine Wahi, to address rape culture. “This piece is intended to examine examples of violent and predatory misogyny,” she is quoted as saying on Facebook. “Our aim is to provoke widespread rejection of the continued normalization of rape culture by bringing visibility to the topic.”

Whatever the truth is, I think this was an unfortunate moment in the history of New York’s most legendary wall. Not just because of it’s prime location, but because Keith Haring was the first to paint there in 1982. I hope Haring’s legacy is kept in mind when considering future heirs to the wall.

I also think this is a lesson that ignoring a controversy won’t make it go away. Also, I’m glad it’s opened a wider discussion about rape, it’s ramifications, and the various ways our society perpetuates violence.

No Means No. Bowery / Houston Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 18, 2017. (photo © The Dusty Rebel)

From Jasmine Wahi, protest organizer and Curator on her Instagram account:

“Yesterday, at 5 pm, 20+ of us joined together in silent solidarity against pervasive predatory #rapeculture. I’m still processing the jumble of feelings that I have- there is nothing like making yourself vulnerable and laying it all out there to fight for what is right.

What I can say is that I am forever indebted to those who joined, made up our long silent line spelling out #NOMEANSNO and #RESIST– for those men/women/non-binary people who poured ‘blood’ on themselves to acknowledge victims and survivors – for those of us who placed a bloody handprint on the wall in honor of our own personal struggles with #rapeculture (if you drive by the mural you can probably still see the prints). I, for one, could not have stood out in the 90+ degree weather with my body out for all of lower New York to see, alone. Together we are stronger. Together we stand. Together we fight back. NO MEANS NO.”

No Means No. Bowery / Houston Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 18, 2017. (photo © The Dusty Rebel)

From Christen Clifford, Feminist performance artist on her Instagram

“Rape culture is pervasive and even if you don’t think it swirls around you, it does. Today I was proud to participate with many artists and curators I admire under the organization of Jasmine Wahi – these conversations about rape are everywhere – and we all have choices to perpetuate or dismantle. The owners of the Bowery Wall chose to ask an artist WHO ADMITTED TO SEXUAL ASSAULT – to paint their wall.

These choices matter. Today we said in silence “No Means No” and “Resist” and we left handprints on the wall – honoring specific people we knew – I wish I didn’t have so many handprints to leave- and I was thinking especially of the people I have been in close contact with in the last few days in relation to the situation in Buffalo. Stronger together. Only together can we change the rules.”

No Means No. Bowery / Houston Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 18, 2017. (photo © The Dusty Rebel)

Ann Lewis, Artist and Activist

“Today a moment of silence was held for all of us who have managed the emotions, the repercussions, and the trauma of sexual assault, rape, and rape culture.

Those who perpetuate and apologize for these behaviors have no concept of the lifelong trauma, significant personal changes, and the destruction of confidence and self trust that comes with sexual assault. Apologizing is not enough. You want to undo the harm? Fund rape kit testing, planned parenthood, or women’s shelters who take in those abused by their partners.

Apologies don’t change lives. Actions do.”

Bella Hall, observer

Feeling honored to have witnessed these amazing artists fighting to dismantle rape culture, and fucking proud of the voices and fists raised today in the fierce NYC heat.

No Means No. Bowery / Houston Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 18, 2017. (photo © The Dusty Rebel)

Layqa Nuna Yawar, performer, muralist and instigator

“My reasons to do so boil down to feeling a personal responsibility to hold David Choe, Goldman Properties and the entire street art / graffiti / muralism culture accountable for it’s actions and lack of self-criticism. Being part of this culture means celebrating those who contribute to it as well as asking hard questions about what it is that we do, especially now that it has reached a high level of visibility and the weight that a mural can carry to either affect change or be part of the problem. To either support practitioners who perpetuate rape culture or to call them out, not only at this site but everywhere.

This incident raised issues that go beyond painting on the streets and David Choe’s mural but that affect many people who practice public interventions. I joined this action in solidarity with my artists friends, curators, male and female survivors of rape, femme identified and oppressed people of color who continue to fight everyday and that are often silenced or very rarely given opportunities like painting this very visible mural.”

No Means No. Bowery / Houston Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 18, 2017. (photo © The Dusty Rebel)

No Means No. Bowery / Houston Wall. Manhattan, NYC. June 18, 2017. (photo © The Dusty Rebel)

Video via The Dusty Rebel