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Image: Various Nasty Women artworks including work by Venice Biennale artist Michal Cole and local artist Alice Jefferson

At the time of writing this article, Saudi Arabia had only just passed a law allowing women to drive. In the same week, the World Health Organisation revealed that nearly half of abortions performed globally are unsafe. One in three women in the UK have been sexually harassed while jogging. Over 10,000 Nigerian women have been sex trafficked to Europe in the past year. Oh, and the President of the United States deems it acceptable to grab women by their genitals.

Women are angry, exhausted, afraid and apparently ‘nasty’, too. During an election dominated by sexism, Donald Trump publicly labeled Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’, and across the world, women have made it their mission to claim the term back.

Back in 2016, American sculptor Roxanne Jackson took to Facebook to channel her frustrations, asking friends in the art world for submissions in response to Trump’s misogynistic slurs. Fast-forward to January and the first Nasty Woman Exhibition was born, showcasing work by over 700 artists and raising over $42,000 for Planned Parenthood. Women all over the world followed suit, with over 60 exhibitions springing up from Amsterdam to Lisbon, Newcastle and beyond. On Thursday 16th and Friday 17th November women from across our region will be continuing the movement with the first ever International Nasty Women Conference at Thought Foundation in Gateshead.

Local artist Lady Kitt was one of the many women to submit her work to the New York show, and was inspired to hold an exhibition of her own back in April. Along with friends and colleagues Aly Smith and Michaela Wetherell, she is the driving force behind the upcoming conference. “Nasty Women is such a great story, one of those modern fairytales that starts with the internet.” Kitt says. “Both the New York exhibition and our own event back in April started with very modest intentions, but hundreds of people got in touch. We expected a few mates to help us out, maybe our mams would come along, but we received work from 80 artists from 23 different countries. The postman started getting really excited.” The exhibition was a huge success; 2,500 people passed through the doors and £2,000 was raised for charity, split evenly between Byker Community Centre’s Women’s Group and North East LGBT campaigning group The Fed.

Kitt has been Maker in Residence at Byker Community Centre since January, and sees first-hand the impact that their projects have on women in the area. “I was having a cup of tea with a lady a few months back, and she told me that the centre had saved her life. Organisations like this need to be supported to serve their local people. I often think back to that conversation when I’m working on the conference.”

We were blown away with how successful the exhibition was, and the logical next step is to gather Nasty Women from across the globe to talk about what we can do next

As with any movement, there was a need to keep striving forward, and a phone call with Roxanne in New York prompted the idea of a conference. “We were blown away with how successful the exhibition was, and the logical next step is to gather Nasty Women from across the globe to talk about what we can do next. It has to be useful and have a genuine impact, both internationally and for the women on our doorstep, and this is an opportunity for women to discuss that with one another. We’re delighted that Roxanne will be joining us from New York, along with co-founder of Nasty Women Amsterdam, Airco Caravan.”

The two-day conference will run in connection with a second exhibition entitled Are You Still Nasty?, reflecting on the time that has passed since the movement first began. The exhibition will open on the final day of the conference and run for two weeks. Open to all, artists of varying levels, disciplines and backgrounds are welcome. Exhibited work will simply be an expression of what it means to be a Nasty Woman, the movement and what it means to individuals. Spread over two rooms, a curated party political exhibition will be open downstairs, exploring Trump’s actions in his first year of presidency. 

America may still not have woken up from this long national nightmare, though it’s impossible to ignore the international unity spurred by Trump’s presidency.

“After the New York exhibition, I received a handwritten letter from the woman that had bought my artwork,” Kitt recalls, “she was a politician in New York, and despite everything going on at the time, this person had taken the time to find my address and thank me. It’s really wonderful to build those connections.”

In what seems to be a series of good news stories, I’m interested in the response to the Nasty Woman brand. “It’s funny really, as we call ourselves Nasty Women, but I’ve never been met with such generosity and kindness. This community is anything but nasty. People are creating things to sell to someone they’ve never met, in order to raise money for people they’ve never met. It’s incredible.”

The Nasty Women Conference will be held on Thursday 16th and Friday 17th November. The Are You Still Nasty? exhibition runs until Thursday 30th November, both at Thought Foundation, Gateshead.

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