As part of a continuous wave of efforts and activism to spread awareness of women’s rights and to neutralize what is being called “Trump’s America,” artists have taken to the streets to make a bold statement. On New York’s Chelsea Market Passage of the High Line, an independent design consultancy Pentagram has installed a free library with 4,000 copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopic novel set in a fictional futuristic-yet-medieval Republic of Gilead, where the government of the United States has been overthrown in favor of a theocratic military dictatorship that quickly succeeds to sideline women. In a world that has been shattered by a revolution led by a group that calls itself ‘Sons of Jacob,’ women are deprived of a number of rights – particularly the right to read.
In a statement, artists Paula Scher and Abbott Miller argue that The Handmaid’s Tale provides a chilling reminder of how easily the darkest currents of repression can re-surface. “The installation we designed shows how these dark messages are often accompanied by bombastic language and imagery: spectacle becomes a form of persuasion. Cracks in the floorboards reveal empowering texts, glimpses of resistance for an uncertain age,” they explain..
The 40 feet long by 12 feet high installation is designed as an accordion-shaped library, featuring the faceless red silhouette of Offred, the protagonist, with white caps topping each panel, which is how the novel illustrates the oppressive attire imposed on women at that time. When passersby pick up their free copies, different messages beam in the book’s place; these include “Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum” (which translates to: Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down), a battle cry of survival that the designers also used as a title for the installation.
Pentagram’s project – done in collaboration with Civic Entertainment Group, coincides with Hulu’s TV adaptation of the novel, which has been streaming since April 26. The free-books-for-a-cause initiative started with the release of the TV show and ended on April 30.