For each of Cibulka’s “SOLANGE” (German for “as long as”) public art installations, the artist considers the local environment and community. In developing the phrase for NMWA, the artist sought public input to help shape her message. From the submissions, a central theme emerged: calls for gender equality have been repeated for decades, yet many issues remain unresolved.
As long as generations change but our struggles stay the same, I will be a feminist.”
Reflecting on the sentiment “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” Cibulka and her team crafted their message for Washington, D.C. With this message, the artist honors marginalized groups that must repeatedly, across multiple generations, fight for equality. Hear more from the artist, and see NMWA’s “SOLANGE” net come to life.
Making NMWA’s SOLANGE Net
Artist Katharina Cibulka brings her “SOLANGE” project to Washington, D.C.
Hello, my name is Katharina Cibulka. I’m an Austrian artist, and I’m coming to Washington with my project, “SOLANGE,” which means “as long as” in English. We are installing our huge, hand-embroidered scaffolding net on this construction site. “SOLANGE” is a communicative art project that promotes dialogue. It aims to create awareness of gender inequalities people experience in our society.
Taking up Space
Cibulka asks, “How can big change happen?”
Transcript: Public Space
It’s my aim to reach as many people as possible instead of staying in my own bubble. How can bigger change happen if I only speak to those who share my opinions? How can I get people to start reflecting on and discussing what they see? How can we convey a message with a single sentence? “SOLANGE” is not only about pointing out gender injustices and inequalities, it is about taking up a lot of public space. It is my aim to use the historical practice of embroidery, traditionally done by women in the private sphere, to claim highly visible public spaces; to speak up and say: we’re here, in the male-dominated space of construction sites. I chose hot pink tulle for the stitching to signal empowerment. Playing with traditional gender roles and materials is what makes the project so appealing to me.
Creating the “SOLANGE” Phrase
Each “SOLANGE” phrase begins with the question, “How long will you be a feminist?” Cibulka reveals how she crafted the phrase for NMWA.
Transcript: “SOLANGE” Phrase
We begin by asking: “How much longer must we stand up for equality? How long will you be a feminist?” It is important for us to explore what issues are important to the communities that live, work, and interact around each site. With the National Museum of Women in the Arts, we conducted an online survey that asked members of the local community to share topics important to them. We received responses about issues like street harassment, bodily autonomy, equal representation in the arts, and every subject in between! From there, we explore the energy of the responses, twist and turn phrases, and add puns and ambiguities. It is an equally fun and demanding process. The final step is the installation and big reveal. The phrase remains a secret until it is unveiled on the site; no one outside the team and collaborative partner knows what themes or sentences we considered.
Addressing the Challenges and Joys of Construction
For the artist and her team, there is no greater joy than unveiling a new “SOLANGE” work.
Transcript: Challenges and Joys
There are often many challenges in store for us when working on construction sites. The building industry is traditionally very much male-dominated. Our team of women insert ourselves into this sphere to work on equal footing with the guys. Together, we need to overcome every obstacle, a process that requires open communication, discussion, asserting ourselves, and a lot of compromise. If we didn’t do that, we may still be able to successfully create the “SOLANGE” nets, but in the bigger picture not much would change. The greatest joy is when we mount and reveal a new net. It is truly uplifting to see a feminist phrase hand-embroidered on a huge public surface. To hear people discuss the phrase and its implications, to observe everyone’s different opinions and thoughts about it; that’s the reward.
Cibulka and her team tackle today’s challenges through community, togetherness, and discussion.
If we want to tackle today’s major global challenges, we need communities and togetherness. When we share and come to understand how and why someone thinks and acts the way they do, we can empathize, discuss, and change our deep-rooted patterns. Humans are part of the problem, but we are also the solution. It may sound a bit corny, but it’s so true, especially when it comes to equality. It is only through community that we can change injustices; the power of the individual expands infinitely when we work together. “SOLANGE” is a great example. We are a small team of women from a small country, and we have already achieved great things that we are very proud of. We have found a medium and language that speaks to a lot of people and hopefully makes them think with sensitivity, imagery, and a bit of ambiguity and wit that puts a smile on your face.
About the Exhibition
Lookout: Katharina Cibulka
Lookout: Katharina Cibulka, the museum’s second public art installation during its building renovation, prompts viewers to consider what inspires their feminism. Austrian artist Katharina Cibulka covers the museum’s north-facing façade with one of her monumental “SOLANGE” nets. Her work at NMWA is the artist’s first installation in the United States, supporting our drive to end gender inequity in the arts.
Lookout: Katharina Cibulka is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The project is generously supported by Share Fund and the members of NMWA.