From day to day,  people operate within a system of normalized notions. The way people act and move around their environments legitimizes itself, creating a loop of norms and behaviors. Questioning these mundane modes of living requires curiosity and incentive. For Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, addressing these inclinations is vital to understanding ourselves and our impacts.

Based in Brooklyn, United States , Fazlalizadeh’s work has ranged from murals to photography and seldom a combination of mediums. By balancing the interplay of experiences and expectation, this approach highlights different voices and perspectives to what we deem normalized. Drawing from her own insights of what it means to be a black multiethnic woman, Fazlalizadeh wants to explore how elements of one’s identity play a role in society’s treatment of an individual.

Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Image courtesy of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s work covers elements of her identity and culture embodying the United Nations’ Social Development Goals of Reduced Inequalities. Fazlalizadeh’s multifaceted projects and pieces bring light to the intersections of her identity. Social and community engagement is a vital perspective to her art. As the mediums interplay, storytelling and narrative are born.

In Stop Telling Women to Smile, Fazlalizadeh addresses street harassment towards women. This project is a mixture of visuals and text gleaned from interviews of participants detailing their encounters with harassment. By pairing a quote of the individual with an illustrated poster of their profile, Fazlalizadeh effectively freezes them in an act of retaliation. For more than a decade, this has been a way in which storytelling and visual art can capture the realities of women and their struggles.

By framing the posters as a response, the audience is left with an opportunity to reflect on the impact of these unprompted comments. This engagement seeks to address how the person was made to feel and the very nature of the harassment. As the project goes on, Fazlalizadeh’s posters for Stop Telling Women to Smile can be found in various countries across the globe. This growing catalog of posters is tactfully addressing international communities. Admittedly, Fazlalizadeh mentions that the posters aren't meant to last forever. Social media allows for conversations to grow in multiple cultural contexts around the world, extending the posters’ life cycle and exposing it to new audiences.

Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Image courtesy of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

“I think if we open up the conversation to include many voices, then we can interrogate things a little deeper,” said Tatyana Fazlalizadeh on dialogue through her art in an interview with Dazed.

The Day is Past and Gone by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Image courtesy of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Another example of Fazlalizadeh’s multimedia approach to storytelling came in the form of her 2021 art installation The Day is Past and Gone for the Greenwood Art Project in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Greenwood Art Project is a meta-narrative art collection that sought to bring awareness of the Tulsa Massacre on its 100 year anniversary. Fazlalizadeh’s installation could be accessed at the Vernon AME church in the Greenwood district, the very district in which the targeted atrocities against black Tulsans were carried out.  

Fazlalizadeh was originally born in Oklahoma and her connection and proximity to the overall project is palpable. The church setting was meant to be commentary of the places in which black residents are safe in. By incorporating a short film, music and sculptures made out of church materials, Fazlalizadeh creates a sense of dichotomy of safety and violence.

The Day is Past and Gone by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Image courtesy of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh‌ ‌

In her diversified art practice, storytelling shines through. Whether it comes from a poster or a meta narrative driven installation, Fazlalizadeh bridges gaps in difficult conversations. Challenging what is presented as the status quo guides the audience to reassess preconceived notions and beliefs. By highlighting the experiences of the affected, perspectives are given space for dialogue.

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