New York City Street Art Projects Take on Anti-Black Racism and Gender-Based Harassment

New York City has taken many actions to combat discrimination and harassment in the workplace. These actions are not limited to legislation, such as the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), or investigations by the city’s Commissioner on Human Rights (CHR). In 2018, the CHR named Brooklyn-based street artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh as its first Public Artist in Residence (PAIR). The program partners city agencies with artists “to address pressing civic issues through creative practice.” Fazlalizadeh unveiled a mural, entitled Respecting Black Women and Girls in St. Albans, in Daniel M. O’Connell Playground in Queens on April 12, 2019. The mural addresses experiences of “the daily indignities of anti-Black racism and sexism.”

New York City has officially declared, through the NYCHRL, that “bias-related violence or harassment…threaten the rights and proper privileges of [the city’s] inhabitants.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101. The NYCHRL further states “that gender-based harassment threatens the terms, conditions and privileges of employment.” Id. In most situations, the NYCHRL only applies to employers with four or more employers, but any employer, regardless of size, could be liable for gender-based harassment. See id. at § 8-102.

The NYCHRL prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and multiple other factors. Id. at § 8-107(1)(a). “Discrimination” in this context can include workplace harassment. The statute also prohibits any “person,” which may include both individuals and businesses, from engaging in “discriminatory harassment” based on any protected category. This is broadly defined as knowingly using or threatening force to intimidate a person or interfere with their exercise of any legal right or privilege. Id. at § 8-603.

The New York City Division of Cultural Affairs launched the PAIR program in 2015. The first phase of an artist’s residence involves research into their agency’s operations in order to learn more about its most pressing issues. The artist then proposes one or more public art projects. Upon approval, the artist creates the project (or projects) with cooperation and assistance from the agency. Funding for the PAIR program comes from the city and private donors.

Fazlalizadeh began her eighteen-month residence with CHR in January 2018. She had previously created a street art series entitled Stop Telling Women to Smile, which addresses street harassment by men against women. The project consists of portraits of women placed in public areas, “with captions that speak directly to offenders.”

In preparing to create the St. Albans mural, Fazlalizadeh met with community activists to discuss their experiences with racism and sexism. She also sought public input by creating postcards “ask[ing] pointed questions for people to answer,” which she left around the city. Postcards addressed to “Black folks” asked about daily experiences of racism and assumptions others have made about them because of their race. Postcards addressed to “women, girls, gender-fluid folks, femmes” asked about experiences with street harassment, and asked what they would like to say in response to street harassers.

The mural consists of images of several women’s faces, which Fazlalizadeh says were inspired by women she met in the community; along with text that depicts community members’ experiences. The CHR held an event on April 12 to unveil the mural. It will remain in the park for one year.

The employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent employees, former employees, and job applicants in New York City, advocating for their rights in claims for unlawful workplace practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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