Art

Artivism that Illuminates: The Womxn Project Makes History Present

Did you know that CVS has donated more than $70,000 to politicians in Texas who support anti-abortion and anti-justice legislation? The Womxn Project is calling them out with a grass roots activism campaign that encourages making a protest sign, and posting a picture in front of a CVS.

The Womxn Project is a 501(c)4 non-profit that grew out of a response by a small group of women in South County who saw Roe vs. Wade being challenged at the federal level. Knowing that 52% of white women voted for the Trump administration, Jocelyn Foye, artist, activist, and Womxn Executive Director and the other founders felt it was important to start educating and organizing to inform more women about the harmful impacts of legislation on women’s health.  The organization today is a multi-cultural, multi-racial group, which seeks to lift up marginalized voices, and bring attention to pressing issues.

More recently, the group has created The Womxn Project Education Fund, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that creates “non-partisan educational programming to stir social awareness and support the policy objectives of The Womxn Project.”

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Their most recent artivism project is Illuminating The Legacy of Slavery in Rhode Island Projection and Performative Reading series. Foye says it was inspired by former House Speaker, Nicholas Mattiello’s ignorance around fundamental issues. When a referendum was put forth to remove “Providence Plantations” from our state’s name, Mattiello declared that he wasn’t sure slavery really existed in Rhode Island. When a bill was put forth by Senator Harold Metts to commemorate Juneteenth, Mattiello said, “Juneteenth…I apologize…I don’t even know what you are talking about..” 

With so little understanding of our past history, acknowledgment of our history of slavery here in our state, and how that ties in with where we are today, the Womxn Project felt they needed to do something immediately. The night of Mattiello’s remarks, the group utilized the activist art form of projecting images and printed texts, onto Mattiello’s office building in Cranston with statements like, “Privilege is Power. Use Yours To End Racism,” and a list of slave traders from Rhode Island, with the DeWolf family of Bristol, at the top of the list.

The current Illumination series expands upon another guerilla-girl style pop-up projection event that took place on July 4th, at the DeWolf Tavern and Linden Place in Bristol, which was a point of entry for slaves arriving in the Bristol/Newport area during the North Atlantic slave trade. 

The projection caused a stir in Bristol with some residents concerned this history wasn’t based on fact, and uncomfortable by the uncovering of this untaught history that has been kept hidden for so many years. 

Inspired to dig deeper and uncover more truths about slavery and colonization, the Womxn Project went looking at the municipal level. Among the scattered and messily kept records, they found information about redlining (the practice of restricting mortgages in non-white neighborhoods) and even an unmarked Native American burial ground in Cranston.

Scholars, artists, writers, creative writers and performers came together for the first “public art intervention” on August 26th, at the site of University Hall on the grounds of Brown University. Built in 1770 using at least four enslaved African and Native American people’s labor, the piece acknowledges how slave labor built Rhode Island’s infrastructure and economy. On this night, audience members gathered in front of University Hall while performer, Catia, read a script on the local slave trade,  informed by scholar, Marco A. McWilliams, and written by poet, educator, Marlon Carey. All the while, text projections by artist, Devon Blow, illuminated behind Catia, making pronouncements, such as, Who Still Profits From This Labor?.

Daria-Lyric Montaquilla, a Board Member of The Womxn Project, an organizer, and actress, said that working on the Illumination series, was “a passion project that will shed light on the erasure of local history, particularly of the enslaved people who helped to build Rhode Island. Their legacy is in the infrastructure at Brown University, in the ground we walk on in Cranston, and the mills we think bring us our New England charm in South County.” 

The second performance took place in front of the Neighbor Works building in Woonsocket on August 30th. That night focused on the overlooked story of Frederick Douglass’s anti-slavery convention in Woonsocket Falls in 1841, where he and local abolitionist, Abbey Kelley, were attacked for delivering their message. The final performance of the series will be held in Cranston on September 20, where attendees will roam to three sites. These locations will be disclosed to registered participants on the day of the event., since the nature of this public art intervention is to reclaim each site in this convergence of art, and a truthful, inclusive history. The Womxn Project hopes the collective witnessing of the Illuminations series, can move us to acknowledge, repair, and re-envision a just way forward.

As photographer, Anna Gallo, said, this series “beautifully ties together spoken word, visual art, and community in a brief but powerful moment. So often we forget or excuse wrongs in history over the passing of time, but these events remind and teach us to, ‘know your past to fight for your future.’”


To learn more about The Womxn Projects, visit their site at www.thewomxnproject.org. The third Womxn Project Public Art Intervention will be held, Monday, September 20th at 8 pm in Cranston. Register here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSddDzTBuTo0yDh2CiPqcpVxoo14TS5YjZIr38WfrlO8Xjj73g/alreadyresponded It will also be streamed Facebook Live, making the performance accessible for all.

To take action against CVS for its support of “anti-justice” lawmakers in Texas, visit https://thewomxnproject.org/cvs-anti-abortion-anti-justice-agendas/

Wendy Grossman is a writer, poet, and blogger on cross-racial connection, racism, and whiteness at www.wendyjanegrossman.com
Photo credits: Anna Gallo, www.annahopegallo.com

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