Welcome to The Owls Are Watching

red origami owl

Origami Owls against Sexual Harassment

People have no idea how much sexual harassment there is in our world.

The Owl project wants to raise awareness. We ask people to share the number of times they have experienced  harassment in their lives. Then groups of people gather together to fold Owls. Then do it again and again.

The current count (5/18/2023) is 3070 instances for 98 people — 7 men, 91 women.

Below you’ll find links to some of the things we’ve done.
Photos of the original Owl Project can be seen here.

If you want to join us, hold a folding with your group, or learn more about the project contact me elin@WatercolorDC.com 

Owls the Movie

Done for the Washington Sculpture Group at the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies.

Visit our Evansville Owl Folding hosted by Jacqueline Dente at the White Swan Coffee Lab in Evansville, IN. 
And our San Francisco Owl Folding hosted by Andrea Harmer at Dr. Insominacs in Novato, CA.
We’ve gotten great press in the Hill Rag and on The Hill is Home, in Washington, DC.  
Voice of America’s Russian language service did a wonderful short video report on January 14. We  have an English summary below.

 My corrections are in [square brackets].

The idea for her project dedicated to the problem of sexual solicitation [harassment] came to Elin Whitney-Smith last summer. Autumn brought active preparations and now, in January, the art-installation “Owls See All” [The Owls are Watching] is finally up in St. Marks church in Washington.

Elin’s inspiration was the “Me Too” movement. But very few decide to post their injuries on Facebook or publicly announce their insults [experiences], and it was these people that Elin decided to help [speak to]. She focused not on words, but on numbers. Each owl symbolizes one instance of sexual solicitation[harassment]. Having interviewed ore than 55 parishioners at the church, the team counted 1535 incidents.

ELIN: Thanks to this project, I’ve realized that people don’t want to relive their memories, they just want these events [their experience] to matter; they want their experiences to become a push for changes.

Participation in the project became a form of therapy for victims of sexual solicitation [harassment]. Together with Elin, they meet every week in a coffeehouse near the church to fold little origami owl figures from colored paper.

  • LUCY: I think the best thing about this project is the spirit of comradery and unity. I don’t really want to go into the details of my story, but here I don’t need to. I can just be with people who also know why we are here. That is precisely what joins us together.

MING I think each person has to find her own method. We talk about this with the help of the owls simply because we’re more comfortable that way.

Men show up to cut out [fold] origami too, though it’s true that the number is insignificantly small: After several months of the project’s existence, only 4 men contributed numbers of owls.

[One of the men] CHRIS: This [sort of] thing happened to me once, but I never think about it. Thanks to this project, however, I realized that it’s the lot of many women to think about it every day when they get on an elevator, when they go to a party….In most such situations, I don’t have to be wary.

An owl in the role of symbol of the struggle with harassment was not, of course, chosen at random, says Elin. They fly silently, they see well and, most importantly, they eat rats [they rid the world of vermin]. One of my friends suggested origami cranes, but I said no, everybody does cranes. Moreover, cranes symbolize peace and calm, which have no place in sexual harassment. No, says I, we’re going to do owls. I like owls because they are associated with wisdom and with Minerva who in mythology was the goddess of wisdom.

    KARINA BAFRADZHIAN, Correspondent: The number of these paper owls is already lost, but there are more and more of them every day. And that’s a reliable sign that such a method od saying “Me Too” is necessary for victims of sexual solicitation [harassment] And perhaps the space of just one church won’t be enough for it. Elin admits that she did not expect such a reaction from people. She hopes that similar meetings will be arranged in other cities throughout America. “I want people to understand: This is widespread. This is a mass phenomenon which takes place everywhere and always [all the time].”

The installation “0wls See All” [The Owls are Watching] will be up until March 1st.

If you’d like to do your own Origami Owls against Sexual Harassment project, contact elin@watercolorDC.com.

The Owl Project — What Now? 

What Have We Learned? 
What do you learn when 55 parishioners tell you how many times they’ve experienced sexual harassment in their lives? How do you fold 1535 origami owls – one for each incident – all over the community, and build enthusiasm as even passersby are drawn in?  What’s it like to build solidarity with friends old and new as you install owls all over St. Mark’s? And what’s next, for us, and for other communities?
Questions: contact:  elin@WatercolorDC.com

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