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.
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.
The installation “0wls See All” [The Owls are Watching] will be up until March 1st.
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? Come see the installation, at St. Mark’s Capitol Hill at the corner of 3rd and A Streets, by March 1st. Questions: contact: elin@WatercolorDC.com