As the summer came to a close, a very public (and very visual) battle was being waged on a corner on Capitol Hill.
One day, the long-loved public walls of the Sunset Electric building at 11th Avenue and Pine Street—long used by both artists and promoters to post their messages—were festooned in pink pieces of paper carrying bold feminist dispatches. The next day, the pink was pasted over with posters by national guerilla-ad company Poster Giant. Within days, Poster Giant’s advertisements would be completely covered again with yet another pro-woman installation created by the activist group Seattle Grrrl Army.
While the war appeared to rage on between Poster Giant and Grrrl Army, the latter’s presence in the battle for poster dominance was only incidental. There is a concerted effort by members of the artistic community to change Poster Giant’s practices—in particular the group Poster Giant Is Scum has been battling what it sees as a destructive glut of postering by the company—but Seattle Grrrl Army’s aims are elsewhere. “We do not agree with Poster Giant’s ethics, but we have limited resources,” explains one founding representative of the group who asked to be identified as SGA. “There are other things that Grrrl Army is trying to do.”
Those things mostly involve painting the city pink. Pink telephone poles line Pike Street. On 12th Avenue, a coat of pink lines the shuttered Capitol Hill Market. And there’s more: From the Hill to Aurora Avenue, empty spaces have blushed beneath bold words decrying sexism and “rape culture” spray-painted in black and red, impossible for the passerby to ignore.
Seattle Grrrl Army works to reclaim these empty spaces with their activist message, taking feminist conversations to the street. “Moneyed interest is ruling the world, but that doesn’t have to mean our physical world,” explains SGA. “This world is ours to decorate.”
SGA first dabbled in activism in 2007 when she and a friend canvassed Capitol Hill with stickers and flyers bearing statements including, “How has your gender affected you?” and “One in three women are raped: Your mom, your sister, your girlfriend.” Dissent and backlash followed. “People were even threatening to kick our asses,” SGA remembers.
With time, the group grew from two to 20, an ever-rotating group of people—both men and women—who act cooperatively with each mission. Now under construction, the Sunset Electric building is no longer a place where they paint, but they have no plans of putting away their brushes and going home. It is difficult to measure what victory looks like, but one thing is clear: All that pink is getting noticed. While Grrrl Army’s work is garnering attention from local television and print news outlets in Seattle, the group’s practices and message are spreading to other cities including New York, Boston and Reno.
Members often write, “You are Grrrl Army!” on the sites they paint, and they take the sentiment seriously. SGA expounds, “You, random person walking down the street. You’re a feminist. You don’t know it, but you are.”