“I like to encourage people to think about: If you’re silenced or if you’re being silent, who is that silence taking care of?” says Chicago-based artist Whitney Bradshaw. “Oftentimes, it’s not you.”
Bradshaw is the creator of a project called OUTCRY. In it, women scream. As loud as they want. Whatever they want. With other people or by themselves. It’s a practice, says Bradshaw, that encourages them to use their voices to speak up and out for themselves. “The more you practice it, the easier it becomes,” she says.
What began in 2018 as a series of 100 photographs of women from all different backgrounds screaming — against the patriarchy, against white supremacy, against the assault on reproductive freedom — has become a growing “collective act of resistance” that now includes more than 400 photos. “I see no end in sight,” says Bradshaw.
Every time she travels for an exhibition of OUTCRY, Bradshaw holds scream sessions, during which she photographs each new participant from each new city and adds their portraits to the project. And each time, it’s a unique and empowering experience — for the participants and for Whitney.
“Not only are we screaming en masse, but the representations of us screaming en masse are continually growing and becoming more and more powerful after each session,” she says.
In October, Bradshaw visited UC Berkeley and held two scream sessions with students at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). A rotation of more than 100 photos from OUTCRY have been on display on BAMPFA’s huge outdoor screen since July. The show — which now includes photos of the Berkeley participants — will run daily for 60 minutes at 8:30 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. through the midterm elections on Nov. 8. Learn more about the exhibition on BAMPFA’s website.
Berkeley News spoke to Bradshaw about why she started OUTCRY, how women — especially women from marginalized backgrounds — have been taught to stay silent, and why, together, women’s collective power is unstoppable.
Berkeley News: Why did you start OUTCRY?
Whitney Bradshaw: One of the reasons I created the project was to bring together womxn (I spell womxn with an x, as it’s more inclusive) who come from very different backgrounds — people of different ages, different races, different abilities, different ethnicities, different sexualities — and create a space for intersectional empathy. There are people who identify as trans womxn and nonbinary folks in the project, as well. It’s important to me that the project be as inclusive as possible without including cis-men.
I wanted to create a space for womxn to practice speaking up and out for themselves in a space in which they could be heard, witnessed, believed, supported and encouraged.
Part of my inspiration for OUTCRY is that I am a survivor of sexual assault and I worked with rape victims in emergency rooms for three years as one of my jobs when I did social work. The intensive training I went through to be able to do that job was transformative. Many of the trainees had experienced silencing and shaming around their own experiences of being sexually assaulted or sexually harassed or any number of microaggressions against womxn and womxn of color.
Together, we created a brave space in which I felt I could tell my story and that other people really heard me and supported me. I was no longer silenced or ashamed. And so, I wanted to create that kind of space for womxn who hadn’t had the opportunity to experience that.
You started the project in 2018. What was happening in the country at the time?
Trump had been elected president. I was completely horrified and, frankly, a bit terrified that someone who was openly sexist, racist, xenophobic and a predator was voted into the highest office in the free world. He’s also a very divisive figure, so it really drove home the need for this project to connect people who, like most of us, live in very segregated communities, and therefore weren’t spending much quality time together and getting to learn about other people’s experiences, values and beliefs.
Additionally, the #MeToo movement was really becoming revolutionary. Men who had been uplifted by our culture again and again despite the horrific acts they’d committed against people — children, womxn and men — were finally being held accountable.
I wanted to use this project as a way to continue to propel the #MeToo movement, by encouraging womxn to speak up and out for themselves in any situation. Not only sexual assault and harrassment, but also in the workplace when you have an idea and want to express it, but you have grown up in the patriarchy and are told to be quiet and let men take up space. I wanted womxn to practice expressing themselves, taking up space and being heard.
This project is always timely. But particularly now with the reversal of Roe v. Wade. It’s truly unbelievable that our rights can be trampled on like this by the U.S. Supreme Court, despite the fact that the majority of people in this country would like womxn to have the right to choose what to do with their bodies.
Can you describe OUTCRY? What does the process look like?
Each session is unique — there are usually 10 to 15 people in a group. Sometimes a person will come with one person that they know, but mostly they’re intentionally set up so that people spend time with people they don’t know and who are not like them. Womxn practice speaking up and out for themselves and that requires a lot of vulnerability and bravery. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to express yourself whenever and wherever you need to without feelings of embarrassment or shame.
I usually talk about why I wanted to start the project and about how my voice has literally saved me. I encourage people to think about, if you’re silenced or you’re being silent, who is that taking care of? Oftentimes, it’s not you, right?
Then, we practice screaming together. I like to exemplify a few different screams — I’ve heard so many after facilitating this project for five years. It’s a really hard thing to do. Womxn are taught not to speak up loudly. We are taught to be silent. We are shamed when we express our emotions, particularly when it’s anger. And so, screaming is important, I think. People can choose what they scream and how they want to scream.
After practicing together, participants take turns getting in front of the camera. I try to do three rounds, but it really depends on how quickly we’re moving — I like to leave a lot of space for connecting and sharing. I don’t choose people to go; someone always volunteers to go first. I give everyone the option to talk about why they’re there and give them a choice to scream alone or with the support of the group.
What sorts of things do people scream about?
It’s really a range. There are political things and very personal things. And then, there’s empowering, community-building reasons for being there. Some people have said they have nightmares where they need to scream and they can’t, so they come to see if they can do it and to practice doing it. Not everybody shares why they want to participate, and that’s absolutely fine. No one is required to say a word about why they are there unless they want to.
There’s always a lot of support and, usually, some hugging. I’m always like, “I’m a hugger. If you aren’t into it, let me know, it’s totally cool. Consent is extremely important in all relationships and I’m not going to hug you without asking. Ever.” There are always several womxn at the end who ask for a hug or womxn I offer a hug to in the midst of it if I can tell someone really needs a little extra support. Just imagine how much better the world would be if all boys were taught about consent, healthy relationships and boundaries from a very young age.
It’s important to you that everyone — especially people who haven’t seen themselves represented in museums and galleries — be a part of OUTCRY. Can you talk about the power of representation and its role in this project?
So often, you go into museums and all you see is white people. Things are changing, so we’re starting to see some different kinds of people, but it’s still majority white, heteronormative, non-neurodivergent, ambulatory people. I want to make sure that everyone can see themselves in this work and in spaces of visual culture. Representation is extremely important, and diverse voices and experiences are necessary and enriching — for everyone!
In Minneapolis, I worked with this amazing group of womxn who had a range of disabilities. One of the womxn, her social worker told me, was nonverbal and really wanted to be part of the project. She came to the session and she ended up screaming and talking to me. I found out a couple months later from her social worker that she had gotten up in front of a group of 40 people and told her story of abuse as a young person. So, that was incredibly powerful.
I often put an OUTCRY exhibition up, then facilitate scream sessions and build on the show by adding the new portraits of womxn in that community, so participants can see themselves in the show. At BAMPFA, all of the new portraits I made of Berkeley students were added to the exhibition sequence on the massive outdoor screen on Nov. 1.
OUTCRY is on display on BAMPFA’s giant outdoor screen, so that everyone walking by can see a rotation of photos in the exhibition.
Yeah. It’s exciting for me because I am interested in reaching people who aren’t museum-goers and who aren’t artists. Because, let’s face it, a lot of the time, artists are speaking to artists, right? And so, it’s really great to have the opportunity to have this work in such a public, monumental space as that massive screen during this extremely problematic political landscape that we find ourselves in. So, I’m thrilled about this opportunity.
Another really great thing about OUTCRY at the Berkeley Art Museum is that the new director, Julie Rodrigues Widholm, was the first curator to really believe in the project and to show the entire series back in 2018, when she was the director of the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago. It’s wonderful to have her bring it to her Berkeley, now that it’s four times the size, and that she is able to show it for the first time on such a monumental and public scale as it is on BAMPFA’s massive outdoor screen.
How can participants stay connected after a scream session?
I try to maintain a social media group I started on Facebook. I have an OUTCRY group so that whenever I have a show coming up or there is an article written about it or if a participant has something to share, everybody has the opportunity to use it as a bulletin board. People in the project range in age from 13 to 90, so I also try to send out email newsletters so that people who aren’t on social media can hear about what’s happening.
One of the coolest things about the Berkeley sessions was that one of the groups went out for tea together afterwards. The next day, I ran into one of the participants in the other session, who works at the museum, and she was like, “I just wanted you to know that we’ve all been connecting over Instagram.” They’re now part of this big national community of over 400 womxn. People are really growing their communities and supporting each other.
The project doesn’t really end for the participants at the end of their sessions. Participants often write me notes about their experience with OUTCRY — it’s transformative and empowering for many. I think all of the participants have a positive experience with the project and are proud to contribute to this political act of resistance against the white supremacist patriarchy. I know I am.