Battered female faces in Italian street art highlight gender violence

Angela Merkel with two black eyes and a nasty gash on her nose, Brigitte Macron with a sliced lip, Hillary Clinton with a puffed eye bruised shut: the scarred faces of international female figures are displayed on the streets of Milan in a poster campaign against gender violence by Italian artist AleXsandro Palombo.

Disfiguring the instantly recognisable faces of female leaders to warn about violence against women, Palombo has created a series of seven startling posters.

His chosen ‘victims’ range from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the young American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the French First Lady Brigitte Macron. The line-up is completed with the former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the de facto head of the Burmese government Aung San Suu Kyi, Indian politician Sonia Gandhi and former US First Lady Michelle Obama.

For this campaign entitled ‘Just because I’m a woman’, Palombo features these familiar faces in unfamiliar grimaces along with the text: ‘I’m a victim of domestic violence - I get paid less - I’ve experienced genital mutilation - I do not have the right to dress as I want - I can’t decide who I’m going to marry - I was raped’.

The title ‘Just because I’m a woman’ references a song written by Dolly Parton. “Violence against women is a global problem that affects everyone regardless of race, class or religion,” the posters stress.

Contemporary artist and activist Palombo wants this work to show how global leaders can be as vulnerable as any other woman, that no woman is immune from gender violence.

His aim is “to illustrate the drama that involves millions of women throughout the world (...) with the intent to denounce, raise awareness and get a more incisive response from the institutions and politics”, explained his press office in a statement.

“The violent and sexist attacks that many women in politics have undergone over the years, as recently as when Brigitte Macron was attacked by the Brazilian President Bolsonaro, highlight the strong sexism and male chauvinism that still exists in world politics.”

Palombo is known for hijacking iconic visuals for his own politically motivated messages. Among his most important works are “Disabled Disney Princesses” and “The Simpsons Go to Auschwitz”.

For International Women’s Rights Day in 2015, he launched the #BriefMessage online campaign, inviting women to denounce violence by writing a message on their underwear and then sharing the photo on the Internet.

“Violence against women is a real war that kills tens of thousands of women around the world every year,” said Palombo in his artist statement. “It is a crime against humanity, a violation of human rights in the public and private spheres that affects all women just because they are women. As of today, the governments’ responses are still insufficient.”