The Artist Behind the Nasty Women Exhibition: A Q&A with Inês Mourão

When U.S. president and feminist public enemy Donald Trump referred to his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton as “a nasty woman,” he sparked widespread outrage that gave birth to an international feminist movement. Artists who identified with the term “nasty women” organized themselves in opposition to threats to women’s rights, individual rights, and abortion rights. They began using their art to fight back, raising funds through exhibitions to support progressive organizations.

Today, the movement is going strong in Lisbon under the leadership of 22-year-old artist, feminist, and activist Inês Mourão, who has been the driving force behind Nasty Women Portugal since day one. Over the last two-and-a-half years, she has expanded the informal organization to include a small team of volunteers, and they’re getting ready to launch the third-annual Nasty Women Exhibition on Friday, March 8. The exhibition is a free, three-day art showcase at Galeria Monumental, kicking off on International Women’s Day and featuring a diverse body of artwork created by over 40 international contributors. The wide assortment of paintings, photographs, prints, and more will be available for purchase, with 100% of proceeds benefiting CRESCER, a Lisbon-based community organization. We chatted with Inês about the motivations behind the initiative, feminism in Portugal, and what to expect from this year’s event.

Inês Mourão and her father at the Anti-Art Fair in London, October 2018

What is your background as an artist? How did you first hear about the Nasty Women movement, and what made you decide to get involved?
I’m an “Alfacinha,” which is a traditional Portuguese expression that can translate to “lettuce,” and it means that I was born in Lisbon. The expression can also refer to someone who doesn’t take initiative, who doesn’t move, but that’s not me. I’ve always had an artistic side; I think the first time I was aware of it, I was four or five years old. I loved to paint, and I also loved to write poems. When I was 13, I started rapping, and was constantly confronted with this huge testosterone energy that would try and squash my femininity. I had a hard time reaching out to other rappers to be part of the “squad,” and I started to realize I had very few female rappers to share my concerns with — but a few of them approached me and empowered me to fight the norm.

I started to feel the power of female energy, and I wanted to expand it to a higher platform, and that’s when the Nasty Women Movement came up — I think I came across it online. To me, it was perfect. It’s an activist movement that combines art and feminism, pushes for equality, and brings awareness to important issues like discrimination, patriarchy, inequality, privilege, and so on. I believe art is the best, or maybe only, fuel for change. The only question I had was, “why the fuck isn’t this happening in Portugal?” So I rolled up my sleeves and dove in.

Tell me about the team you’re working with to execute the event: what are their backgrounds, and how did you all come together?
My team is amazing. They’re all volunteers from different backgrounds, which was super important because I needed to get people together who could complement each other’s skills. Bringing different types of people together allows you to mix cultures, expertise, perceptions, experiences, and it totally changes the way you think about your own creative process, allowing you to put yourself in each other’s shoes. The team is a blend of national and international men and women of multiple races and belief systems — they all responded to my open call for help through the Nasty Women pages on Facebook and Instagram.

What can we expect from this year’s exhibition? What message do you hope to get across?
This exhibition represents over 40 national and international artists who are sharing their thoughts on privilege through artwork and includes two pieces donated by feminist-artists and activists Guerilla Girls. Mostly, we hope to bring awareness to matters that people might not even have thought of before. We hope to connect people and create a discussion among them.

What inspired this year’s theme of “privilege?” How will that manifest in the artwork?
If we really think about it, privilege intersects with everything in our lives. Our choices, which are a privilege in the first place, all correspond to the privileges available to us. Privilege is everywhere, and the fact that most people are not aware of that is a privilege in itself. Privilege can be related to the benefits we have in comparison with others, but it is also related to the things we don’t have in comparison to others. I saw one of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talks where a white woman came to a really interesting revelation: she explained that she’d always thought of privilege as something extra, something more, but then realized that privilege, as far as racism and discrimination goes, can be the things that don’t happen to her, like discrimination, for example. We really wanted to bring up a theme that is common to all of us, and we believed everyone could relate to this concept. To see how our artists brought it to life, you’ll have to come to the show.

Why did you select CRESCER as the beneficiary of the project?
CRESCER’s work serves as an example. Their efforts to help, to educate, to socially re-assimilate, and to connect with their beneficiaries is a job that they put their expertise and humanity into every day. They don’t see people in fragile situations as numbers or statistics, they see them as human beings with the right to dignity and good living conditions. I also respect the fact that they really value everyone on their team. There are a few volunteers, but most of the people who work with CRESCER are properly paid and given specific training. They select very special people to give input into their projects, and that, I believe, is 50 percent of the success they have.

What is your point of view on feminism and the fight for women’s rights and equality in Portugal?
Feminism is seen as a bad thing here. Or as a lesbian thing. Or as a hater thing. I believe there is still a lot of work to be done. To me, feminism is first about women’s empowerment. Feminism creates this amazing energy among women, and we all know that can change the world. I’ve seen women turn on other women, mainly because of men. Imagine if all women worked together instead of competing with one another? Feminism to me is also a platform for all people to come together and work towards humanism. It’s an opportunity to become more human, more aware, more compassionate, understanding, and caring towards each other. In Portugal, I think there are still people who hide behind “tradition” to allow certain behaviors, and that needs to change. Quickly. We need to develop better education systems and resources to prevent these attitudes before they form. I also believe that the media has a bigger role than they think. They have to put in work to report on these situations and let people know what is false as well.

What has been the most challenging aspect of taking this initiative on? What have you learned through the process?
In the first two years, I’d say it was doing it alone. It was absolutely crazy. This year, I’d say it’s managing people [laughs]. I’ve never had that experience, and I’ve grown so much because of it. Listening, hearing “no,” deciding together, compromise, accountability — those are all challenging lessons, but extremely powerful. I’m grateful.

What has been the most rewarding aspect?
There are so many things, honestly. Knowing that we’re making a difference in someone’s life, that we’re educating, that we’re spreading awareness, love, and kindness, that we’re creating opportunities for artists — it’s all so rewarding. Aside from that, I’ve gotten to meet inspiring people from all over the world, to hear their stories, and to learn with them. It’s been wild in the most positive way possible.

The Nasty Women Exhibition will be open to the public at Galeria Monumental from 17h until 21h30 on March 8, and from 15h to 21h30 on March 9 and 10. The exhibition’s launch will be celebrated with an after-party at Copenhagen Bar on Friday, March 8, where those with a stamp from the exhibition will get in free until 01h.

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