I once met a female construction worker. When discussing her job, she actually teared up. Not only is she paid less than her male peers because she physically cannot lift as much as many of them can, but she also faces sexual harassment on a daily basis; she is called “weak” and “a little girl,” and she hid the fact that she was gay for fear of bullying.
The artist Susan Eisenberg’s “On Equal Terms,” a traveling installation exhibit currently at NYC’s Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center, addresses the harsh reality of what it’s like to be a female construction worker. Eisenberg used her own experience in 1978 and those of other women in construction to build the startling collection that “includes audio, poetry, personal witness, artifacts, found objects, photographs, and 3-D mixed media — including Stella, a life-sized figure on a ladder in a diamond hardhat.” Viewers are asked to walk into a model bathroom filled with pornographic images, much like many of the women in construction who are forced to share co-ed bathrooms and face sexual harassment and threats of violence.
In the center of the space stands Stella, the figure of a woman wearing the actual coveralls Eisenberg wore to work. Stella is laden with gift tags written on by the artist’s colleagues in construction; real-life statements like “incompetent” and “nice buns” are pinned to her form.
The exhibition draws on the ideas of female camaraderie and the loneliness of being a woman in the construction field. In her Artist’s Statement, Eisenberg writes, “I hope that Stella –– and the exhibit as a whole –– conveys the contradictions of being both armored and vulnerable, welcomed and assaulted, alone and in community. At the other end of the cable that Stella’s pulling in, she has a partner.”
The project resonates with female construction workers, particularly women of color, who arguably face more brutality on the job. Race and sex are both profoundly weighted in the word of construction; one woman tells Color Lines, “The saddest thing is that black and white women were pitted against one another because of the way they were treated.” Hopefully Eisenberg’s work will have an impact on the way women are perceived and treated in the business. Go check out the incredible exhibit before it leaves!
Thanks to Color Lines and On Equal Terms
Images via Color Lines
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