Tired of the unwanted and imposing photos of genitals she and her friends received from men, Kidd Bell takes back control with her new show
It’s a fate that befalls most women. If you haven't received one, your friends most definitely have. It’s the unsolicited “dick pic”. It can be big or small, attached to friend or stranger, but it is an inescapable byproduct of being a modern women. At worst, it’s deeply upsetting. At best, we respond by circulating it to our friends in an attempt to laugh it off. But if you are Whitney Bell, AKA Kidd Bell, you turn it into art.
For her latest project, Bell has taken two hundred unwanted photos of penises and decorated a whole room with them. After years of receiving unsolicited dick pics from men via dating websites and Instagram, Bell decided she had had enough.
“Dick pics are a form of sexual harassment,” she affirms. And when the abuse happens online, your harasser can come straight into your bedroom. To demonstrate this, the artist reconstructed her homely, comfortable apartment in a gallery, before sticking the lewd photos all over the walls.
The exhibition, I Didn’t Ask For This: A Lifetime of Dick Pics, was first shown last week in LA. Bell has now had offers from galleries in New York, Austin and San Francisco and is about to begin a tour of the US.
Every one of the 200 pictures on the walls had been sent to a woman, who then handed it to Bell. All unsolicited, all snapshots of a culture that enforces sexual harrassment.
After getting a huge response from women online, Bell asked men who took such pictures why they do it. “They get off knowing that they have forced a woman to see their penis or that they made her uncomfortable,” Bell explains. “Some told her that they just liked knowing that their victim had seen it: “It’s like flashing someone in the subway,” she says.
And it’s this behaviour that has become routine. One of the last people to send an explicit photo to the 27-year-old was a middle-aged man. She could see his wife and kids on his Instagram account. “A man can harass a woman in her grocery store; he can make rude gestures; he can send her a picture of his dick when she's at home and there are no consequences,” she observes.
Displayed in the living room, the phalluses look ridiculous. One photo shows a man using a remote control to give a sense of scale. Most of the people who visited the initial exhibit responded with disbelief: “The general consensus was, ‘Why would you send this?’” Bell says.
She hopes the exhibit will expose the absurdity of other forms of sexist harassment too: “When a guy screams at you that he wants to lick your pussy from his car and you just keep walking and say nothing, if you think about it, that's pretty absurd.”
Bell runs a colourful IG account that’s rooted in exposing misogyny and celebrating sex positivity. Photographing herself at her most free, she’s found it brings in relentless abuse from a rowdy, chauvinist minority. But she is adamant: “My job isn’t to look pretty for you. You acknowledging that you like my appearance in no way means that you have the right to assault me psychologically or verbally. Or, I guess, with a picture of your cock.”
The profits from Bell’s last show, taken from admissions and from her line of pins and badges, are going to the Centre for Reproductive Rights. Despite quitting her job as an art director two weeks ago to work on the project, she has decided to use money from the show to fund the organisation, who use legal means to defend a woman’s right to choose. The group are currently fighting against the swathe of new laws that are crippling abortion clinics across the South of the US. The closures mean that many women have to travel long distances across the country, as well as pay the huge clinic fees, in order to terminate a pregnancy. “It’s essentially just making it impossible to maintain your legal right to an abortion,” says Bell.
The struggle for the rights of women to abortions in America goes deeper than the recent political hype: “It’s not so much Trump, it’s the broken system we’re living in,” says the artist.
Since her first exhibition, there has been a huge backlash. “I’ve had dozens of dick pics sent to me in the last four or five days. They’re generally accompanied by aggressive, misogynistic slurs,” Bell says. “The funny thing is that they seem to be blissfully unaware that their responses are just further validating the point I’m trying to make.”
Despite the amount of abuse she has received since starting the project, Bell remains intent on showing these pictures for what they really are: harassment. Besides, at least there is one upside to the abuse. She now has even more photos: “They’ve got to go somewhere, right?”
Check out more from Kidd Bell here