“I couldn’t sit back and be silent,” Natalie White told Ms. “I have a platform with my art. If I don’t use it to fight oppression I am taking the side of the oppressor.” The feminist artist’s latest project, Natalie White for Equal Rights, which centers on ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), launched with an exhibition at WhiteBox Art Center in New York City and ultimately ends with a two-week march to Washington, D.C. led by White herself.
The exhibit includes pieces across mediums that center on womanhood and play with patriotic imagery: A bronze statue of a nude White holding an American flag. Self-portrait double exposure polaroids of the artist. War flags featuring slogans such as “Sisters of Liberty, Demand Equal Rights.” On Friday, White embarks on her march to the nation’s capital purposefully timed around the upcoming presidential and congressional elections. Her goal with the Natalie White for Equal Rights Project is both to inspire folks to take a stance and join the fight for equality and to spark a national conversation that centers on the need for ERA ratification and electing officials to government positions who support women’s rights.
“When I made revolutionary war flags into feminist flags I wanted to channel the need for freedom from oppression that people already could relate to,” White told Ms. “When I made the Giant Polaroid installation of the American flag out of my nude body painted red and white with red, white and blue backgrounds, I wanted to convey the message that women have fought for this country, make sacrifices everyday in this country—and we are the majority so we need to demand the rights we deserve.”
White’s work often utilizes her own body as a subversive tool for empowering messages about gender and equality. She started out as a young model—serving as the muse for many photographers, artists and magazines—which led her to an art career of her own, one in which she promotes female empowerment and self-affirmation. A past exhibit, “Who Shot Natalie White?” presented photos featuring her as the muse as a form of artistic reclamation of her body. “It felt powerful,” she said. “Like I was finally in control.” Natalie White for Equal Rights similarly harnesses the artist’s sexuality to bring awareness to and express the ideals that matter to her. Her celebration of the female body in a society that prefers women be ashamed of their bodies rather than proud is a key part of her message. “I feel empowered by using my body in my artwork,” White told Ms. “I make it for me … If the intention is empowerment you are being empowered.”
The Natalie White for Equal Rights exhibit was inspired by the artist’s observations of how interconnected women’s oppressions were, and how slow progress had been on many dimensions of women’s rights. As she said to us, it’s not just time for the ERA—”It’s way past time.” White learned more about the persistent wage gap in America and the unique ways it hits women of color even harder. She discovered the U.S. had fallen to 28th place on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. She began seeing sexism all around her. She had had enough.
“I believe that this generation of feminism will be known for legislative change and finally passing the Equal Rights Amendment,” White told Ms. “We owe it to the feminists who have come before us and sacrificed their time fighting for the movement and really paved the way for all of us to be able to accomplish passing the ERA.”
Maeve Barry is an editorial intern at Ms. and a student at Occidental College studying Gender Studies and Critical Theory and Social Justice. She also co-founded a group focused on body positivity for high school girls called Clear Image. Maeve loves writing, surfing and her two dogs Buddy and Maddie.