This is a speech held by Pia Chakraverti-Würthwein during the Visible Award 2019 at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, on November 16th, 2019
[Addressing the Parliament] How many of you had to rely on a caregiver — nanny, housekeeper, nurse, etc— to take care of a loved one in order to be here today?
At one point or another, each of us will either need care for ourselves or for someone we care about. Too often, however, the people who give this care are not properly cared for.
CareForce is a massive public art project and labor movement in the United States that has involved over 25,000 individuals on the street and reached over 250 million more through broadcasts and reviews on major media outlets including The Guardian, New York Times, and Univision ¹. It makes care work visible, engaging both workers and employers in conversations about the future of care. Artist Marisa Morán Jahn and her Studio REV- collaborators developed the project in response to an invitation from the National Domestic Workers Alliance to create artwork informing domestic workers about their rights.
With a team led by women of color, many of whom are first or second generation immigrants, CareForce recognizes that care work doesn’t only affect the United States. Funds sent by care workers to their families in other countries are part of an international economy, and many migrant care workers are vulnerable to predatory labor practices and domestic trafficking. CareForce recasts careworkers as superwomen through interactive artworks such as an audio novela, Sundance-supported documentary, original music, and media kits that have been distributed through their mobile studios: the Nanny Van and CareForce One. CareForce’s anti-victimist approach represents both careworkers and their employers as people, whose humor and joy draw audiences into the conversation and invite them to become part of a network of care that includes caring for careworkers.
In the United States, 10,000 people turn 65 every day, and 70% of people over 65 need long-term care ². This fact makes caregivers the fastest growing workforce in the country. However, many care workers are also immigrant women who wish to maintain ties to their home countries. This reality necessitates an approach that acknowledges the challenges that these women face in the United States and in their countries of origin. The scope of CareForce is thus not only national, but global. The CareForce team is currently in the process of further developing the transnational aspect of the project with the design of the CarePod.
The CarePod is a cooperative, urban-scale housing solution promoting collectivized home-ownership for caregivers. The idea addresses three key issues of care: the economic precarity of domestic workers, the shortage of affordable quality care for the elderly, and the social isolation endemic to caregivers and care-receivers. A CarePod is a live-work housing unit with four apartments around a garden. Care-receivers live on the bottom floor and caregivers on top. The caregiver pays an initial fee to join the housing cooperative and cares for those who live below, their rent counting towards ownership of the apartment. The caregivers can eventually move to a downstairs apartment and receive care. The concept for the CarePod was developed by MacArthur Genius Ai-Jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Marisa Morán Jahn, and social-design architect Rafi Segal.
The CarePod addresses the widespread housing crisis that care workers face. They are often underpaid and don’t have access to pension systems or other job securities to ensure that they are cared for once they retire. It offers live-in care and independence for the elderly at a much more affordable price than most nursing homes. Furthermore, it provides care workers and receivers with an intergenerational community.
Carework is particularly important in the Philippines, where approximately ten percent of the country’s GDP comes from money sent back by individuals abroad ³. This has helped grow a highly educated and tech-savvy middle class, and an industry of care in which care workers receive extensive training as medical professionals prior to working overseas. Los Angeles is one of the largest hubs of Phillipino care workers. As such, Marisa and the National Domestic Workers Alliance envision developing networked CarePods in both Manila and Los Angeles to further strengthen the support system for new careworkers arriving in the United States and to facilitate their journey home should they choose to retire to the Philippines.
The CarePod will debut as a workshop and maquette at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennial, and will be developed further at the MIT with design students, care givers, and receivers, including many from the Philippines. Land has already been secured in Manila and the team is in conversation with developers about breaking ground, but the project needs additional funding in order to begin construction. At a time of international housing crises and widening wealth gaps in cities across the world, it is imperative that we invest in innovative solutions like the CarePod to ensure a sustainable future for ourselves, our loved ones, and those who care for us.
¹ Figures provided by CareForce lead artist Marisa Morán Jahn.
² Statistic from Caring Across Generations, “Why Care.” https://caringacross.org/why-care/
"I feel safe when I am heard.
I feel safe when I am not judged.
I feel safe when I don't have to justify, defend, explain, defend, over and over and over again.
I, Action Shero, am your safe space, as you are mine."
—Jasmeen Patheja, inspired by Blank Noise.
Blank Noise is a collective art project, initiated by Jasmeen Patheja, to eradicate gender based and sexual violence in India. It began in 2003 when the artist brought together women at her university, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, to discuss how they felt within public space. Alarmed by the overwhelmingly negative associations, Patheja asked herself: What would be required in order for women to live free from fear?
Patheja began by addressing the issue of street harassment. She found through her research that both the law and public opinion tended towards victim-blaming, with conversations revolving around a woman’s modesty and behavior. This phase led to works such as the online Museum of Street Weapons of Defence and A Step by Step Guide to Unapologetic Walking. While the former highlights the absurd or even comic household items women carry to make themselves feel safer—chilli powder, hair pins, even an umbrella—the latter is a score meant to encourage women to make public space their own.
Viewing her role in the project as an artist-facilitator, Patheja believes that art is crucial to building a movement and replacing a culture of fear with one of trust. Part of her practice is stepping back and listening to the “silence, denial, rage, and potential bias” in relation to the treatment of women in the street and in the home. Within this time for reflection she thinks about medium, community, plurality, and tone. Emphasizing the body as both a site of trauma and empowerment, Patheja’s performances are accessible to all women and have been spread and re-enacted across urban and rural South Asia, and beyond.
Two such projects are Meet to Sleep and I Never Asked for It. Meet to Sleep is a performance, political action and an occupation by women and girls of public space for the most ordinary and vulnerable of human activities, sleeping. It has been enacted by approximately 1,500 women across 68 parks in urban and rural India and Pakistan. Meet to Sleep was inspired by Patheja’s own fears when she first tried to sleep in a park. After almost falling asleep she awoke in a cold sweat to a threat that wasn’t real, and realized that “there are more of us in fear of each other than there are those who actually harm.” Meet to Sleep articulates the link between women’s fears and how we limit our bodies and mobility. While the action, itself, imprints a collective memory that heals intergenerational trauma.
The project I Never Ask for It treats survivors’ garments as witnesses to their assaults, asking women to share their stories through the clothes they had been wearing. This artwork consists of a social media campaign, exhibitions of the garments, workshops, and street performances. In the street performances, Walks Towards Healing, members of the Blank Noise inform the public and invite passersby to add their testimonies and join the walk. Blank Noise is currently working towards gathering 10,000 garment-testimonies as part of the project I Never Ask for It, which Patheja plans to install around the India Gate in Delhi. Delhi is a significant location for this monument because of its size, political importance, and its history.
While Patheja’s existing artworks have already been very successful in shifting the national and international conversation around sexual violence, a grand gesture such as that at the India Gate would radically alter the position of women within that space. The sheer effort and time that it will take to install the work would give a platform to the issue, informing public consciousness and memory through those who build and witness it. And, most importantly, it will be a step to build women’s trust in our cities and ourselves by treating us as agents of our own destinies instead of dependents in need of a man’s or the state’s protection.
Blank Noise has functioned for the last 15 years as a sort of laboratory, with hundreds of members contributing to communal reflections that have inspired and helped refine Patheja’s scores. Winning the Visible Award will allow Blank Noise to develop the infrastructure to move on to large-scale public consciousness-raising: starting with the realization of the India Gate installation. India, and especially its megacities, is characterized by an excess of visual stimuli so much so that one needs to make a grand gesture to make an impact. Gathering garments from an immense network across the country, Blank Noise would set off a conversation in Delhi that would reverberate across India and the world.
Blank Noise forces us to ask ourselves: Where would I go if I could walk without fear? What would I see if I kept my head raised?
Pia Chakraverti-Würthwein lives and works in Berlin. At the core of her practice is a belief that art can be a means of building critical thinking and social engagement. To do that she develops programs that involve members of diverse communities as collaborators and experts, emphasizing the value of different types of knowledge. More information can be found on her website,