Sarah Marie Hawkins is a Sacramento-based artist, professional photographer, and founder of Menagerie, an organization created to promote budding local artists.
I met Sarah at Outlet Co-working in Midtown Sacramento for a conversation about her photography installation, “Faceless,” for the temporary exhibition ArtStreet, which runs February 3rd to February 25th, at 300 First Avenue in Sacramento.
Aida: How do you describe the subject matter or content of your work?
Sarah: My work has always centered on women and what it is to be a woman. My past show, “2,500 Minutes,” was comprised of illustrations of women in everyday poses. In each image their faces were obscured or parts of them were missing to visually represent how a society tends to take us apart.
“2,500 Minutes” was not intended to be a slap-in-the-face project; it was a reminder to myself. In the past, I caught myself looking down on female friends and colleagues who gave up their work to become a mother or get married. That was a big part of their goal, and they were wonderful and strong people, but because it differed with mine, I judged it.
In “Faceless,” my illustrations are brought to life through photography.
Aida: How are you or your works connected to and influenced by the Central Valley and Sacramento?
Sarah: When starting in any town, it is important to me to get to know every aspect of it. Attending city council meetings, rallies, and immersing myself, not just as an artist, but as a citizen. We have to start somewhere to have our art appreciated.
I don’t think that people are intentionally unaware that art is underfunded or undervalued. I think that they are uneducated about it. People don’t realize how much art affects their everyday life. I think that is why artists need to be more accessible. We need to reach outside of the art community and get to know all of our community. We can’t expect the public to feel included if we stay in our bubble.
Living in the Bay Area was rough because there is a dense community of artists. If you don’t know anyone or if you don’t know the right person, your art is never going to be seen. Sacramento is more open to artists.
Jared Konopitski is an example of a successful local artist that makes himself accessible. He shows his work constantly and promotes his own shows, but he will also post a list of every single show he knows about to promote other artists. He does this every month, and it is so encouraging to have an artist that you admire place importance on your work and what you are doing. Even when he has something going on, he shows this community how to be close knit and supportive.
Aida: Tell us a little about ArtStreet.
Sarah: ArtStreet is the brainchild of M5Arts, housed at 3rd Street and 1st Avenue in approximately 60,000 square feet of warehouse space indoor and outdoor. The best way to describe it is “pop-up art museum”. At last count, there were over 100 artists involved. This is the largest exhibition that M5Arts has produced. Their last project, Art Hotel, was a huge success, and we are really hoping that ArtStreet will be as well. The location is more accessible, and more people can tour the facility at once. I’ve been told the modest estimate is that approximately 1000 people a day will see it. It is a maze of art. Each person has 45 minutes to view the space so I suggest you plan two or more viewings to ensure you see it all.
It is a little overwhelming to be a part of ArtStreet. When I look at the list of people involved, I see artists that I kind of fangirl over and that I have known in the community by reputation. Just knowing that I am a part of that community is huge. I don’t think I have ever been as excited about a project as I am with ArtStreet.
Aida: How do you describe Faceless, your installation at ArtStreet?
Sarah: Faceless is a photography project that portrays the experiences of 20 women. These women are all survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape. I have been wanting to do this project for a long time, but the subject matter is so sensitive that it was hard to find the right platform. ArtStreet came to my attention early fall last year. Not every survivor was assaulted on the street, but the rawness of their experience fit the theme. The opportunity was there. I submitted the proposal and M5Arts accepted it.
The installation is a narrow L-shaped hallway with 16” x 20” wood prints of each of the participants surrounded by excerpts of their stories. Participation is completely anonymous. All stories were submitted through an online form. Many of these women are very empathetic, and I didn’t want anyone to feel like they needed to protect me by holding back. The questionnaire did not ask for their name or any specific information about them. None of the stories on the wall are matched to the woman in the image.
I thought I was going to have trouble finding volunteers, so I submitted a proposal of 20 photographs to ArtStreet. Three days after I posted a request for submissions I had 140 emails. To this date, I have not been able to get a full count of submissions, because there are just so many. I wanted to find a way to involve everyone, but 100 plus portraits would take over ArtStreet. Instead, I made a photo sculpture from submitted photos of a body parts. The image could be a close up of their hand, wrist, shoulder, mouth, or an ear. It didn’t matter what it was. The idea is to represent how their abusers viewed them as an object; how they weren’t viewed as a whole thing.
At the opening of the installation, viewers are invited to take red dot stickers and place them throughout the exhibit in solidarity with someone they know or for themselves. The statistics show that if it has not happened to you, it has happened to someone close to you. As guests read the stories and view the photos, they are invited to put a sticker next to them. I didn’t tell any of the participants about it, because I wanted them to experience it organically. Those red dots represent people who actually understand, who are somehow connected by that experience, or even people who are moved by hearing and seeing their stories. I ordered 20,000 stickers, and I really want to encourage people to use them. I think visually people will be jarred by the understanding that each of those stickers represents another story.
Aida: What was the most significant thing you gained from this project?
Sarah: One of the most powerful lines I read in the responses was a woman telling me that she still lives with her abuser. They have teenage children, and the last line of her response was “My youngest graduates high school this year, and then I will be free.” I am so glad I decided to use the questionnaire, because I wouldn’t have been able to sit through a face-to-face interview and maintain composure. I am in awe of these women for sharing these stories and being open. Many people asked if it was anonymous, and if I could photograph them and make unrecognizable. Even so, they have all said something along the lines of “If someone recognizes me, maybe it will make it more real to them.” We tend to separate ourselves from bad things that have happened to us, but thinking that bad things could never happen to us is naïve. I don’t want that mindset in this project.
Aida: What made you want to focus on this topic?
Sarah: I am a victim of sexual assault, and my first two years of being sexually active were completely about the other person. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be, like, “I am the woman, so that is what I do.” While working on this project, I started examining things that happened to me in the past. It’s sad, but I am also really glad that I’m surrounded by people who empower me and have educated me to take myself back and acknowledge who I actually am. In this project, these women are all artists, because of what they are sharing and the way they are sharing it. To be completely honest, I don’t feel at all qualified to do this, but I had to start somewhere. I think if you are given an opportunity to start something, perhaps it will incite a movement. I am very proud of these women and humbled to be a part of it. I don’t want this to be an ArtStreet project; I want “Faceless” to continue to encourage women to share their stories. Perhaps we can make their stories heard by more and more people. If it only encourages women to know that they aren’t alone, then I have succeeded.
When I shoot, I’m looking for one thing, and it changes for each person. The women told me how answering the questions was very difficult but also very healing for them. Many of them were apprehensive, because they had not modeled before. The most wonderful thing about working with them was showing them the photos, and they were all really excited about them and loved them. I was nervous about them leaving an experience so open and raw and having it affect them emotionally. Instead, the actual photo taking left us feeling almost lighter, and they all took back something positive from it. I am just in absolute awe of all of the women who I have photographed, because I have not shared with many people that I was raped, not even my closest friends. I have been wanting to do this project for years, but I did not have the platform or the space or courage to do it. My illustrations were what I did instead. Even now, I don’t know if I could be part of a project like this if someone else was doing it. Still, this is definitely a step in the right direction.
Visit Faceless at ArtStreet From February 3rd to 25th at 300 First Avenue, Sacramento, California 95818.
Note by the Author: The artists for ArtStreet were only given a stipend of $500 dollars which was not enough to even cover material costs. Artists today are often faced with institutions undermining the value of our labor. Through tremendous fundraising, administrative, and networking efforts, Sarah is almost breaking even from her personal investment into this project. Please donate to ease the financial stress of funding “Faceless” through PayPal contact email@example.com (recommended), in person, or through the M5 Arts website: http://www.m5arts.com/product/sarah-marie-hawkins/
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