Through an installation of text and imagery, Powder Room explores how sexual assault on women derive from a dominant patriarchal rhetoric. The quotations, wallpaper, and photographs represent distinct voices in an ongoing societal conversation about gender, language, and sexual violence. Transcriptions of verbal assaults that attackers uttered to their victims are embedded in the wall, resembling scars on skin, only visible by the shadows they cast. Decorative apology cards feature excuses for the rapists’ behavior from family members and judges who focus, not on the woman and what she experienced, but rather on the man, his wellbeing, the promise of his future, and all he could do if not burdened by acknowledging and taking full responsibility for his actions.
Portraits of countless women, with features veiled by powder, create a unified entity, confronting not only the words that surround and entrap them, but also the viewers who gaze upon their form. The natural inconsistencies created by using a wet plate process draw attention to the marred surface of the once unblemished mirror. As the viewer peers at the portraits, their focus shifts between the depiction of the woman and their own reflection cast back at them through the darkened mirror’s surface, implicating the viewer as part of the installation, either as instigator, survivor, or both.
Floral wallpaper adorns a room that is no longer solely occupied by women, yet this allusion to the domestic maintains an inherently gendered space, a woman’s place. The floral wallpaper becomes a timeless reference to a historical era, evoking moments of considerable sexual repression of women. The flowers themselves are manmade constructions, covered in the same powder that conceals the women, muting their vibrancy, and hiding their fabricated nature. The same floral images appear on the apology cards given to the viewers, just as bouquets of flowers are given to a woman to excuse any wrong done to them, or as a condolence for what has been lost. These phrases are all that women receive as amends for what has happened to them, and is the only thing that the visitors of Powder Room may take with them, highlighting just how little those justifications actually accomplish.