The installation opens “at what can only be described as a historic moment of reckoning,” said museum director Susan Fisher Sterling, who welcomed about 175 people to a community forum Sunday night. The forum, the first held in conjunction with an exhibition, is part of the museum’s Women Arts and Social Change initiative.
Mayer’s interactive piece just opened, but it began in September, when Mayer and museum staff held workshops for community groups in Washington and Baltimore. At a discussion and dinner Sunday night, Mayer discussed the evolution of the interactive work she first created in 1978 in Mexico City. She said she asked women where they felt safe in their city, and that query led to a discussion of harassment and assault.
The work has been recreated multiple time since then, with each new installation tailored to the community.
“For me, the piece is now the story of the piece,” Mayer said. “It can be education, art, activism.”
The Washington version asks five questions, including if you ever have experienced sexual harassment or violence, what have you done to prevent it, and how do you find joy after experiencing it. After only a few days, hundreds of pink papers were pinned to the work, with answers both personal and political.
Panel discussion activists Dilcia Molina and Maurissa Stone Bass spoke of the project’s healing influences, saying it offered women an avenue to address their experiences and find peace.
Mayer encouraged the audience to continue to speak out and make art that tackles social problems.
“What has changed in 40 years?,” she asked with a shrug. “The one thing that’s different now is that I’m not the only one doing it.”
“El Tendedero/The Clothesline Project” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW through Jan. 5. Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students and free for museum members and youth 18 and under.