This Election Day, let iconic New York artist Lady Pink remind you to get out there and VOTE! Many New York City Hall offices—including the office of the mayor, the city comptroller, public advocate, and city council—plus many county-level and local positions, and statewide ballot proposals, are at stake even if it is an “off-year” for federal races. To honor this cornerstone of democracy, the Center for Women’s History is taking a deeper look at one of New-York Historical’s recent acquisitions, currently on display on our 4th Floor: Lady Pink’s 8×12 foot “Vote” Mural, commissioned by the League of Women Voters of the City of New York.
Guatemalan-born artist Lady Pink (Sandra Fabara) began her career in 1979, tagging train cars as a teenager in Queens. She was still a student at the High School of Art and Design when she first had her work exhibited in galleries and museums, and she was later featured in the influential hip-hop film Wild Style. Nicknamed “the First Lady of Graffiti,” Lady Pink’s pieces can now be seen on buildings and in collections worldwide (including the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum). She has collaborated frequently with fellow artist Jenny Holzer, and mentored high school students at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria.
The VOTE mural was curated during a live painting session and voter registration drive at City Hall in 2014. The event was organized by the League of Women Voters of the City of New York, which looking forward to celebrating its centennial: The New York City chapter of the LWV was founded in 1919, shortly after New York State adopted women’s suffrage but before the formal organization of the national League and the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920.
Lady Pink’s mural incorporates imagery from the long history of the suffrage movement. For example, the black-and-white letter “O” depicts women in late-19th and early-20th century clothing chained back-to-back. This is likely a reference to the radical British and American women popularly understood as “first wave” feminists, who marched, picketed, and chained themselves to government buildings such as the Houses of Parliament and the White House (subsequently suffering imprisonment and force-feeding) in order to win the vote.
Meanwhile, the red-and-white letter “V” suggests marching “second wave” feminists of the women’s liberation movement. The images recall the Women’ Strike for Equality on August 26, 1970, when tens of thousands of women marched down Fifth Avenue on the fiftieth anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s passage. Organizers and participants recognized that getting the vote, though an important victory, was not “the last effort required” and did not mean that women could “bask smugly in the knowledge that they enjoy equality with men in all human rights and responsibilities.”
The blue-and-white letter “T” contains Revolutionary War motifs, and the final letter “E” takes the overall form of what Lady Pink describes as “a tough girl,” sporting a bold red lip and impeccable eyelashes, and looking much like Lady Pink herself. In a 2019 interview, Pink reflected on her fearlessly feminine persona: “I went to school in silk dresses, high heels—but I was also very much a tomboy and I could dress like a boy. I was a sturdy, hardy girl, brave and fearless, and absolutely reckless—they told me insane. I didn’t take orders from anyone. You could be well-coordinated and feminine and beautifully made up, and you could kick ass in high heels.”
Taken together, the mural is a tribute to the social movements that have pushed to expand our democracy. It is not only a key piece of imagery for the League of Women Voters, but and now a treasured part of the New-York Historical collection.
Written by Jeanne Gutierrez, Curatorial Scholar, Center for Women’s History, and Rebecca Klassen, Associate Curator of Material Culture
Top image: Courtesy of Cathy Gray