'Suffragette City' Delivers A Feminist Call to Arms in Downtown San Jose

1 min
Suffragette City, a walking art exhibit, is the brainchild of LA-based artist Lara Schnitger, who was inspired by the women's suffragette movement. Since 2015, her volunteers (the one in Dresden is shown here) have marched in cities across Europe and North America. (Photo: Courtesy of Swen Rudolph)

What drives people to take to the streets? The reasons are varied and the history long. We march to protest, to celebrate, to worship. We march in large part to feel the exhilaration of common purpose and identity, and to collectively announce ourselves to the broader community.

Dutch-American, Los Angeles-based artist Lara Schnitger has been fascinated for years by the potential of these ephemeral events, and eager to take her artwork out onto the streets, turning a static exhibition into a participatory experience for the marchers and those watching the march.

You'll have a chance to see for yourself on January 12, 2019, when roughly 100 volunteers are expected to march through downtown San Jose as part of Schnitger's walking art exhibit, Suffragette City.

They'll be wearing fashionable floor length gowns and Rosie -the Riveter-like jump-suits. They'll be carrying Schnitger's textile sculptures and quilted signs bearing feminist slogans, like, “Don’t Let the Boys Win,” “All of Us,” and “A Dress is Not a Yes.”

The props for the march/procession are the pieces from Lara Schnitger's work up in the San Jose Museum of Art.
The props for the march/procession are the pieces from Lara Schnitger's work up in the San Jose Museum of Art. (Photo: Courtesy of JKA Photography)

Schnitger drew on multiple inspirations for this project, most obviously the women’s suffrage movement active around the turn of the last century. It so happens this year marks the 100th anniversary since Congress sent the 19th amendment to the states for ratification.

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"America was one of the later countries to give the vote. And I feel there’s still so much inequality. That’s how it’s still good to keep raising our voices."

Schnitger was also moved by SlutWalk — a transnational movement of scantily clad women marching against rape culture. Her work in response touches on a lot of different elements: "dress codes, what women should wear and not wear," said Schnitger.

She produced a series of "slut sticks," wood strung with the kind of fabric typically used in sexy lingerie. The effect is both humorous and pointed. "Even though the pieces are still, I look for a certain life force within them," said Schnitger.

Suffragette City has marched in Berlin, Dresden, Paris, New York, DC and LA since it debuted in 2015. Watch footage from that march in Basel, Switzerland.

Here in the Bay Area, Suffragette City is part of the San Jose Museum of Art’s show called Other Walks, Other Lines. The exhibition delivers a broad exploration of "pilgrimage, marches, migration, immigration, and accessibility," said curatorial associate Kathryn Wade.

Some of the work is commissioned, like “City of Marches” by Lordy Rodriguez. His map lays a number of protest marches, death marches and parades from around the world on top of each other over one city grid.  Naturally, he included two significant San Jose marches: the Women's March of 2017 and the March for Our Lives of 2018.

There's a map key to the side of Lordy Rodriguez‘s “City of Marches” that explains what famous march is what, but the piece itself lays several protest marches, death marches and parades from around the world onto the same city grid, differentiated only by color.
There's a map key to the side of Lordy Rodriguez‘s “City of Marches” that explains what famous march is what, but the piece itself lays several protest marches, death marches and parades from around the world onto the same city grid, differentiated only by color. (Photo: Courtesy of JKA Photography)

"Walking here is a political act," said Wade, who's enthusiastic about Schnitger's ambulatory approach to art. "When all of these works exit the gallery and go on procession in the streets of downtown San Jose, we are a visual call to arms."

The fact the third annual Women’s March takes place next week is just a coincidence, but you could see Suffragette City as a warm up.

Suffragette City takes place January 12, 2019 from 10 am - 1 pm, starting at the San Jose Museum of Art. Other Walks, Other Lines continues through March 10, 2019. 

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