Feminist artists turn 700 misogynistic comments into 100 kilograms of art in China to protest cyberbullying against women

·4 min read

When they were being hurled on the internet, 700 misogynistic insults only took up a dozen pages on Weibo. But when printed out on banners in real life, the insults measure 3,000 metres and weigh 100 kilograms, and can surround an entire hill all the way up.

Last month, a group of artists printed out a selection of insults to demonstrate the weight of cyberbullying when directed at one person.

“You have to kill the devil in the crib”, “F**k you feminists”, “Are your family all dead?” These words stood out against a red background, creating a “museum of bad words”.

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One artist who goes by the pseudonym Garlic to avoid being doxxed and cyberbullied told the South China Morning Post the idea for the project came after a string of recent cyberbullying incidents, most of them targeting women.

The artists enlisted volunteers to help erect the banners on a hillside at a secret location in Northern China. Photo: Handout
The artists enlisted volunteers to help erect the banners on a hillside at a secret location in Northern China. Photo: Handout

“Whenever there are discussions around gender or when women speak up about their rights, there’s always people saying the feminists are trying to create conflict,” he said.

A Chengdu-based feminist surnamed Xiao was the latest victim last month. Xiao had asked a man at a hotpot restaurant to stop smoking and was then assaulted by the man, who threw hot soup on her.

When she posted her experience on Weibo, she was cyberbullied nonstop for weeks. Online trolls victim-shamed her, called her names and said she was trying to create antagonism between men and women.

Many insults were extremely personal. “I hope you die soon”, one said. “I’d like to spill sulphuric acid on you”, another said.

Before Xiao, stand-up comedian Yang Li was targeted last year after she joked about men being “overly confident”. For months, men flooded her social media accounts with insults. Some even recorded videos in response, calling her “ugly without make-up”.

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“When one is hiding behind the internet typing these comments, they may not understand the harm words bring to an individual,” Garlic said. He decided to visualise the words and concentrate them all in one area to provide a direct presentation.

Last month the artists collected more than 1,000 insults from social media. They printed out 700 of them on banners, attached them with wires and wooden poles, and put up about half of them at an undisclosed location in north China.

The group had a hard time finding a shop online to print the insults. They were turned down numerous times, as shops misunderstood the reason for the order and were afraid they might be encouraging misogyny or breaking the law.

In the end, they had to visit a printing shop in person and explain to the owner face to face that they were trying to demonstrate a point with these banners.

When erecting the banners some volunteers were offended by the content and refused to install them until their purpose was fully explained. However many female volunteers showed support, as they felt the banners were showing support for women, Garlic said.

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The banners were exhibited for a day before the artists wrapped them up and piled them in a tomb-like structure in a rented deserted area, lined with stones, to be used again whenever they have another installation project.

A feminist who worked with the artists on the project said although the project has not stopped cyberbullying, she believed it’s part of a bigger campaign to show support to the community and enhance cohesion and gather strength.

“We can only try our best to discuss feminism issues,” she said.

She hopes the project can be an opportunity for the feminist community to feel encouraged, and for members of the public to reflect on cyberbullying and gender-related issues.

Even if the conflicts can’t be resolved with one art project, Garlic said he believes the project is still meaningful, it shows support to the victims and takes a stand.

“At the present, anyone can be cyberbullied. So if we boycott cyberbullying and help those who were bullied, we are helping ourselves,” he said.

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