What Sex Is Your Crossing Light? Check the Mural

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A plywood construction wall in New York is papered with 99 blown-up photos of pedestrian crossing light icons from around the world. They feature a number of interesting life-size men. Only three of the icons are clearly female.

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Mural Reflects Reality

Wade, founder and co-editor of the Sociological Images Web site, says the artist was merely reflecting the reality of the material she's collecting.

"Still, the choice of title suggests that she is not problematizing the centering of men and marginalizing of women," Wade said. "Can you imagine the exhibit being titled 'Walking Women 99' and having the same content? Probably not."

"Walking Men 99" mural, New YorkIn her native Hebrew language, Barkai says, the masculine name of the show, "Walking Men 99," could be seen as gender-inclusive and used for a group of people, like "guys" in spoken English.

The Downtown Alliance, a local business district group, chose the project as part of an effort to mask construction sites throughout its area with murals. Wire fences, concrete barriers and plywood walls are now covered with everything from fabric evocations of rainbows to black-and-white graphite sketches.

All four of the 2010 muralists featured on the group's Web site are women. The four murals from 2009 still on the site are also all by women.

Whitney Barrat, director of special projects at the Downtown Alliance, told Women's eNews in a recent phone conversation that she took issue with the "Walking Men 99" title of the mural when the project was presented to her because it didn't accurately represent the female icons and the one wheelchair icon that isn't walking.

Barrat said in the end the title "Walking Men 99" reflected the artist's original thesis "Walking Men Worldwide."

The project is "primarily meant to improve the look of construction in lower Manhattan," she said.

Challenge to Obtain Images

Barkai said she would have liked to include in the exhibit more traffic signals from different parts of the world, including from the West Bank and Gaza, as well as images from cities such as Baghdad, Tehran and Bombay. She said it was challenging to get images from India and Africa because her network of friends and volunteers didn't reach there.

Organizers of "Images 10," a biennale art fair in Vevey, Switzerland, have asked Barkai to bring the installation there this summer.

Barkai said her required service stint in the Israeli army, where she worked as a military photographer, boosted her interest in photography. But art has always been a central part of Barkai's family life, as her father owns art galleries in Jerusalem and one sister is a fashion designer while the other is a photographer.

She left Israel in 2002 to study photography in New York at the School of Visual Arts, from which she graduated in 2005.

People she met through her school helped her retouch the images, including Chris Ritchie of Coa Design, who worked on the graphic design of the project.

Israeli photographer and artist Elinor Milchan and Israeli art curator Ayelet Danielle Aldouby introduced Barkai to The Downtown Alliance, and served as the curators for her art installation.

Barkai said her fiancé Alon Hadas, a student at City College's School of Architecture, supported her throughout the project by patiently stopping as she photographed crossing lights, even when they were green and signaling go.

Rima Abdelkader is a multimedia journalist in New York City who can be reached at and @rimakader on Twitter.

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Downtown Alliance, Re:Construction:

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