Paige Megan Hawley is a fine art photographer and curator of Nasty Women – a London-based art movement that was created to demonstrate solidarity among artists from all over the world.
Hawley has recently organised a powerful exhibition aimed to raise awareness for Rape Crisis UK and Women for Women; it was such a success that on the day of the first private viewing, the queue was so long that it reached the end of the street and around the corner.
Hawley used to study art, but then she decided to turn to photography, as it was something she enjoyed doing for a long time. She says she feels that it is very important to support those both charities, and women in general, as she understands the pain they are going through.
“Rape crisis helped me through a lot and I know they would help many more like myself so I wanted to raise awareness for this, but it’s important that women worldwide are being supported also, so I chose to raise awareness for women for women charity as well,” Hawley says.
She shares that it was very difficult to open up at first, to share her own story. For a long time, she kept her photos to herself.
Hawley had to go through the trial at court, where she learnt a lot in terms of women and the way they are made to feel like a criminal. It was devastating for her: “I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, so I decided to expose my work and my story, hoping more women would reach out, as it’s important to talk about it, no woman should ever be silenced,” she adds.
Creating and curating the Nasty Women exhibition, she set a goal to help women gain a voice, because it is important to show the crowd that they are strong and make themselves feel powerful, by showing the equality through the art.
Hawley also protested for female rights through this exhibition and continuing this movement to make victims of rape or any kind of violence towards them feel safe and be able to express themselves and not be victimised anymore. It is also a chance to share experiences by meeting other individuals who have been in similar, or even the same situations.
“Let’s face it, every individual person who came to view the exhibition has their own story, as to why this interests them, and this to me was amazing, knowing I brought all of these people together to gain a voice or just to socialise with others like themselves,” Hawley told us.
She also adds that she found it incredible, and this is also why she has decided to continue this movement, even though around the globe others, unfortunately, are discontinuing.
In her opinion, it is the time to establish more feminist art, with everything that is going on in the world, like the #MeToo campaign and the news of Westminster with inappropriate behaviour, more and more women are coming forward.
She hopes that the exhibition should continue to bring people together and make a difference to society and also create a space and event for women to express themselves.
Hawley says that feminist art is very important. Even though it is a form of expression which may shock the viewer, every feminist artist has their own story to tell and have a right to do so – those artists have their own initiatives which reflect on the challenges we all face within society today and scream out for change.
The photographer has enough courage to share her story, as she told Artefact that she found herself the day she was raped: “I was angry, scared, disgusted. I wanted to express this, so I turned to the camera through the aftermath of what happened and also through the court hearing. I wanted to show that I hadn’t been silenced and the viewer of these images never to be silenced either.”
She says that she wanted to use this horrific experience to help other women and to show that if she can capture the after effects of when she was raped, then they should not be silenced either.
Hawley wanted to inspire other women, strengthen their minds, make sure that no one should ever feel alone in what they are going through, as some find it hard to come forward or even tell a friend.
At that time, Hawley came across the work of Francesca Woodman, an American photographer. She admits to be a massive fan of her work and she has been to many of her exhibitions which is when she started to collect her books.
Woodman, before her suicide at 22, took 800 striking pictures. Mostly of herself, nude, in crumbling rooms, her self-documentation is very expressive and best known for her black and white pictures using film photography, featuring either herself or female models. Many of her photographs show women, naked or clothed, blurred (due to movement and long exposure times), merging with their surroundings, or whose faces are obscured.
“I think it is very important for women to share rape and violence stories. I can understand It is a very difficult thing to do, I’ve been there, but every individual that has a voice is making society stronger into change happening,” claims Hawley.
She calls it a “bite back” to the one that caused violation purposely. This way the victim shows that she is not silenced from what was a horrific experience. It is also revealing that strength and allowing oneself to move forward and not let this ruin the life.
Hawley’s motto throughout the projects has been to “turn this negative experience into something positive” and allow yourself to heal. While sharing a story, you get an opportunity to meet other individuals who have been through the same or similar. This is what Paige considers something amazing because she has also worked with survivors who she has learnt a lot from, and gained more strength just from listening to their stories and knowing that she is not alone in this and there are others who understand because you think no one will, but they do.
So how else does feminist art helped Hawley? She says that keeping herself busy made her stronger, as she had her main focus in her studies when she was completing her BA Honours in photography.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to let him ruin my life as he’d already taken away my power to feel safe,” says Hawley confidently. She told us that her family, particularly her brother, who was three years-old at the time and her sister who was eleven, encouraged her to pick herself up alongside her parents, her partner, and her friends who were all supportive and attended the court hearing.
Through the feminist art, Hawley was not only sharing her story and the damage which was caused to her, she was also trying to heal her family, which was hurting no less. In her mind the worst thing for her was seeing them all hurt, so she had to do something, she had to be strong for them.
At that time she was shooting and expressing her story on film and again turning this negative experience into something positive, the development stages defining her healing process.
As soon as she took this image out of the fix (part of a photograph’s development process), she thought to herself that she needs to do something to make her close ones proud.
She discovered the strength there and she knew that her studies and work were on the right tracks of what she wanted to share with the world, and realised that this was the beginning of Paige Megan Hawley as a conceptual photographer.During the Nasty Women exhibition many artists from all over the world have shown their works. Hawley admits that she couldn’t say she had a favourite piece as they all were all very amazing in their own way, with a range of different concepts within the feminist and ‘nasty women’ theme.
“I enjoyed how we all came together and supported this fantastic movement, with all the voices that were heard it was great knowing that I pulled this event together and all of these individuals which all have their own story, and not just the artists but the public too, they all have their own reasons to which they have interest in this movement and maybe their own stories in the future they will share,” says the curator.
So what does it take to create a strong feminist art project? According to Hawley you need to have inspiration not just from other artists but from the heart, as creating something you are passionate about is what makes such a powerful piece.
If you’re passionate about feminism, women’s rights, art and you have your own ideas to portray this, whether it is from your own experience or just something you’ve read or seen, there’s inspiration everywhere. It’s about putting your stamp on your own work, and making it unique, making you stand out as an artist.
“My journey continues! I am now doing a Masters Degree in photography, I am currently creating new work which will be revealed next year, where Nasty Women: London will be exhibiting again,” Hawley told Artefact. Apparently the plans for next year are much bigger, as they have created a bigger team and this movement will continue to grow.
Hawley knows that around the world, a number of cities have decided to discontinue, but she would very much like to carry on this movement in London, especially with the recent sexual assault reports on the news, with Harvey Weinstein and also the accusations in Westminster, she feels now it is even more important for Nasty Women: London exhibit to continue making everyone’s voices louder.
“Watch this space for more as we aren’t going anywhere!” she says.
Featured image by Ryan Prince