‘Looker’ offers peek into women’s realities, seeks empowerment

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There are certain things women seem to just know.

Walk with a buddy. Park under a streetlight. Pretend it’s a compliment. Never leave a drink unattended. Keys can double as makeshift weapons.

Despite not being part of school curriculum or “the talk,” such knowledge spans the boundaries of political persuasion, affluency and ethnicity. It’s passed from mother to daughter, sister to sister and friend to friend.

Tonight, May 9, this phenomena and more will be on display at Public Space One in Iowa City in conjunction with a community forum.

Looker” is a collaborative project by artists Taylor Yocom and KT Hawbaker-Krohn. Representatives of several area organizations will be hand for the forum, which will explore “the crevices between feminism and art, vulnerability and power.”

A brochure for the collaborative "Looker" exhibit and community forum at Public Space One in Iowa City tonight, May 9.
A brochure for the collaborative “Looker” exhibit and community forum at Public Space One in Iowa City tonight, May 9.

Yocum confronts rape culture and victim-blaming in a photo series known as “Guarded.” The photos show head shots of women holding their key rings and any personal safety objects attached. The objects include whistles, pepper spray, Tasers and, of course, keys.

The idea for the project came when Yocom, then a student at UI, spoke with other students between classes. Many were displaying the safety objects kept on their key ring, which left some men in the group befuddled.

“This is a story that could be told visually and powerfully,” Yocom said Thursday.

The spark for “Nudes Leaked!” was a mobile phone hacking scandal that began when nude photographs of actress Jennifer Lawrence were circulated last year.

“This collection is about confronting a culture that manipulates and violates women’s nudity,” Hawbaker-Krohn said Thursday. “I was really disgusted with how people can use women’s nudity as a weapon against them. It’s just another form of violation.”

She sought a discussion on how complicated female nudity can be and what it means.

“It’s not always sexual. It’s not always this purely secretive thing. It can be powerful. It can be funny. It can be grotesque. … What I wanted to do was to put nudity back in the hands of the women who were expressing it.”

The collection, which has not been circulated online or through social media, does contain some nude photos, but also incorporates women who wanted to participate without jeopardizing careers or confronting negative past experiences. Each photograph is accompanied by the model’s written statement, which Hawbaker-Krohn says adds depth and power to the viewing.

Nudes Leaked! is a photography collection by KT Hawbaker-Krohn and part of the larger "Looker" exhibit and community forum at Public Space One in Iowa City tonight, May 9.
Nudes Leaked! is a photography collection by KT Hawbaker-Krohn and part of the larger “Looker” exhibit and community forum at Public Space One in Iowa City tonight, May 9.

While their topics intersect and share common ground, the two projects were developed independently. It was only after Public Space One suggested a joint exhibit that the photographers joined forces.

“I want women and feminine-identifying people especially to feel empowered after they leave [Looker] and I want everyone to be more aware of these issues of invasion of privacy and vulnerability,” Yocom said.

Guarded is a photography collection by Taylor Yocom and part of the larger "Looker" exhibit and community forum at Public Space One in Iowa City tonight, May 9.
Guarded is a photography collection by Taylor Yocom and part of the larger “Looker” exhibit and community forum at Public Space One in Iowa City tonight, May 9.

Hawbaker-Krohn hopes existing communities are reinforced by the project and larger discussions.

The forum begins at 6 p.m. and a reception follows. The photography exhibits will remain on display throughout the month.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on May 9, 2015.