The Scintilla Art Box Project’s rotation for this month features the work of Curator and Photographer Sherri Nienass Littlefield, a New York-based artist whose work in the project discusses street harassment. The project displays photos that are a part of Littlefield’s current series, “Calling Men,” that show various men who have ‘cat-called’ Littlefield in passing, typically on the street. Cat-calling is a form of gender-based street harassment that includes, but is not limited to, “unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression or sexual orientation.”
This series shows connections to Littlefield’s previous “Shopping Series,” also pictured in the Fizz’s online supplement, that highlights the subjugation of women, femme, and female identifying individuals seen in shopping malls and other retail venues. Photos depicting mannequins, ‘bombshell-modeled’ window displays, shoppers, and store environments all exemplify the visual ways in which the viewer experiences this subjugation.
Both of Littlefield’s series address through the social practice of photography the situations in which society and culture, particularly in the United States, have placed women, femme, and female identifying individuals. These works show the confines and methods of gender and gender-based discrimination and harassment while analyzing those who are a producer or product of the system created.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your photo series featured in the Scintilla Art Box project?
A: "Calling Men is a series that has been on my mind for a few years.
As technology advanced, so did my comfort level of executing this project. Every woman I know has been cat called on the street at one point in her life. As a 32 year old woman today, I still experience inappropriate behavior from random men on the street who feel a need to call out to me, regardless of what I am wearing, doing or who I’m with. I’ve had unwelcome comments about my looks, body, race and husband shouted toward me. This would often become a comical affair, with my husband shouting back “Oh, thank you gentlemen!” or “Have some respect, that’s my wife, man!” I used to retaliate with “Does this ever work for you?” or “At what age did you decide you want to be the random guy calling out to women on the street?”
I’d like to acknowledge a few things about this project. I don’t know the background of these men and I understand the upbringing, current surroundings or lack of stability may influence their rowdy comments. I will not knowingly post images of a homeless or mentally ill person calling out because to me, there are larger issues at hand and it isn’t my place to further exploit that. I will never put myself in danger, and exercise caution in my decision making of whether or not I take a portrait. I do not incriminate people in innocent situations where flirtation is typically acceptable (clubs, bars, etc.) The portraits are specifically taken from random men on the streets."
Q: Do you feel that your work as an artist and photographer uses social practice in order to highlight current social topics?
A: "My calling men series definitely touches on the idea of cat calling. Sometimes I think today is rough, but I can’t imagine what women in the 60’s had to ensure in regards to harassment. I’ve made small projects about race and identity, but I’m aware that I come from a place of privilege, and I don’t aim to exploit others that don’t."
Q: How do you feel viewing these series of photographs in a rural town such as Hastings that differs compared to a large, metropolitan city?
A: "Every woman I know has been catcalled in her life, and I think the project will resonate with every woman who sees it. A lot of my friends outside of NYC think it’s something that happens in the city, but it happens everywhere."
Q: What impact do you feel the images serve in informing viewers on sexual harassment when displayed on a college campus?
A: "I think (and hope) that today, in 2019, young adults are more “woke” on what sexual harassment can be. I think of a specific image of a man asking me where I was going on an escalator — he may have thought he was being flirtatious, but I felt very intimidated and found myself wishing he would just turn around and stop talking to me."