After the 2016 presidential election, Melissa Levengood was “devastated,” but she channeled those feelings into something positive. First, she took up a collection for organizations such as the ACLU during a life-drawing session at Hollywood animation studio Titmouse. Then she and friend Sakari Singh, both animation artists, put together their own event. “Pussy Strikes Back! The Art of the Feminist Nerd Resistance” went off on Saturday night with art for auction and sale and proceeds benefiting Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, Lambda Legal and Mercy for Animals.
In the entertainment world, artists don't have the same level of creative freedom that they might in the gallery world. “We're more about creating a product for people,” Levengood says. With “Pussy Strikes Back,” artists who spend much of their time working on specific projects meant to reach specific audiences had the chance to explore their own concerns and express their politics. “The whole idea was to get artists that normally don't participate in politics to get excited about it and get them to make something for charity,” she adds.
The response was enthusiastic. Titmouse heads Shannon and Chris Prynoski gave them access to an event space on the Hollywood campus. Other people bought Donald Trump piñatas to whack throughout the night. Still more participated in craft nights, where the team made items such as glitter tampons, which were were part of a carnival game. Altogether Levengood estimates that they had 36 volunteers and that 80 artists participated in the show. Singh, who has a lot of connections to L.A.'s music and club world, brought in the performers. “All of this has been like the Bernie Sanders campaign, where it's been little donations all along the way,” Levengood says.
Inside, the large group of artists drew heavily from pop-culture cornerstones in keeping with the point of the show. They riffed off comic books, anime series and films such as Star Wars. They lampooned Trump, but it certainly wasn't all about the president. Some artists chose to explore general feminist themes as well. “For me, the idea of consent — enthusiastic consent — is really important when it comes to relationships,” says Lisa Dosson, who co-runs the life-drawing sessions at Titmouse. She used calligraphy to make a poignant statement: “Putting the sensual in consensual.”
Animation artist Carl Beu made “protest kits” filled with items like markers and goggles. They were designed to look like mass-produced items to help start or add to conversations about protests. “I would like to inspire people that you don't need to buy anything to protest,” he says. “It's there as a commercial product, but you can go out into the streets and write with a marker what you have to say, and that's our First Amendment.”
Outside, carnival-style games took aim at politics. You could toss beanbags at the Cabinet of Deplorables or squirt water guns at Trump's mouth. Shiloe Swisher, a visual effects artist by day, made the latter game from reclaimed wood, PVC piping and Halloween masks. “You can be angry at a president all you want, and people are angry right now,” he says. “I think it's really good to be playful about it.”
But the game that sent the strongest message was one made by Levengood herself. It was a beanbag toss where the targets were holes in the hearts of conservative talking heads Tomi Lahren and Ann Coulter. “I really want to make sure that it's still feminist,” Levengood says, “because when you have a hole in a lady, usually it gets really bad really quick. I wanted to make it classy.”
She adds, “We're trying to throw compassion into their chest.”
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