Street art and the State of Consent

Posters about consent have been glued to walls around New Plymouth. Taranaki Community News caught up with the people behind this street art – EJ Barrett, Morgan Dando and Katie Fromings.

Hi EJ, Dando and Katie. Thanks for chatting with us. You are part of a new initiative in Taranaki called State of Consent. What is this, and what’s it all about? 
EJ: It’s a rebellion. Fuelled by a passion for autonomy, agency and justice. Ignited by the pervasive rape culture that exists in our streets and our communities. We want change.

Dando: State of Consent is a project dedicated to education, awareness and collective understanding of consent is; what consent means, what it looks like, why it is important. We want to help initiate and facilitate community conversations and shine a light on an aspect of friendships, relationships, intimacy and other connections that is often not discussed as explicitly or educated about as often.

EJ: We want to make our CBD and other spaces in our towns safe places to be. It’s really that simple. We just don’t wanna be assaulted or harassed any more. So to achieve that, we need to educate the masses on how-to-do consent.

State of Consent was born from EJ Barrett’s desire to stop being silent

That sounds like a really important and worthwhile project. How and why did State of Consent come to be?
EJ: All I knew at the start was that I was done with being silent. I had been pushed far too many times, watched my sisters be violated too many times, and I was ready to push back.

So I started sharing my stories on Facebook. It took a lot of courage. I was ready to get hit with lots of responses about how I should keep quiet otherwise people will think I’m crazy, no one would believe me, I brought it on myself, that’s just a part of being a woman so it’s my job to find some resilience and get over it etc etc. When I was a teenager, that’s the response I got when I spoke up. Thankfully, this time the majority of the feedback I got was supportive! Stoked! 

“We just don’t wanna be assaulted or harassed any more…”

EJ Barrett

I wanted to find a way to ensure this conversation was happening in our streets and the places where we meet, so I turned to street art for the answers.

There’s so much info about consent online,  but the issue with the internet is that we all get sucked into our own echo chambers, so the online convos probably aren’t reaching the people who need to hear it the most.

When I rang all the relationship and sex educators I knew around the island, they confirmed my theory: that the people who are missing from this conversation are millenials and older. There’s lots of stuff happening in universities and high schools now, but millennials and older generations are still largely missing this info. So it needs to be on the streets, where they can’t avoid it.

Enter: Katie, our photographer! She answered my online post asking for other creatives to collab for the street art project. We realised how vital it is to direct people from the art to further info and support, so the idea of an associated social media campaign was born, and the need for a graphic designer was discovered. That’s where Dando comes in.

State of Consent photographer Katie Fromings and her son Lumi

None of us three knew each other before this project. We are just all super passionate and wanna get shit done.

What was supposed to be just a small but impactful street art project quickly turned into something much, much larger. Within a couple of weeks of launching our socials, we have been invited to join the consent and safety conversation with festivals on both main islands, we’re in meetings with local council to figure out how to work together to make our CBD safer, businesses and health facilities and an art gallery have our posters up on their walls, we’ve been speaking on radio, and so, so, so many people have been sharing their stories and thanking us for making this change happen.

“One in three women are survivors of sexual abuse, plus one in six men are too…”

EJ Barrett

A really interesting thing that has come out of this, is the amount of men who are ready to share their stories and make changes.

One in three women are survivors of sexual abuse, plus one in six men are too. And so, so, so many men receive harassment in bars and in the workplace, but have not had a safe place to share this info. Toxic masculinity and homophobia has created massive injustices for all men.

Consent is a concept that affects everyone of every gender/ethnicity/class/sexual orientation, but it affects each demographic differently.

Morgan Dando jumped on board to be the graphic designer for State of Consent

If you had to explain consent in one sentence, what would you say? 
Dando: I would personally explain consent as the informed permission to engage in an activity or set of activities, a mutual exchange between all parties involved.

EJ: Whether it’s verbally or physically communicated, consent is always an enthusiastic “HELL YES!!”

Katie: Consent for me means a mutual decision with active, willing participation on all sides.

EJ: Coercion is not consent. You cannot legally give consent if you’re intoxicated. And no matter how long you’ve been with your partner(s), you NEVER owe them rights to your body. 

Don’t push until you get a “no”, ask for a “yes”.

How can people support State of Consent?  
EJ: Follow and share our social media. Ask your fav bars what they’re doing to encourage consent in their facility. Tell your fav events to implement a consent clause in their health and safety plan. Go find our posters on the street. Write on them (without hate speech or defiling other property), draw on them, share poetry and stories and ideas on them. Take selfies with them and post them to social media #stateofconsent.

Ask us for a free poster to put up in your workplace. Create art about consent and share it with us. Tell your story. Speaking up will help others to do the same. Look up how to teach your kids consent from every age, and do it now.

“So many people have been sharing their stories and thanking us for making this change happen…”

EJ Barrett

This is a grassroots movement, an attempt at facilitating a cultural shift, so it needs to happen from the ground up, with every generation on board. Encourage individuals and groups in your community to make these necessary changes. Educate yourself about cultural assumptions on sexuality. The Orgasm Gap exists.

Dando: I think people can support it by asking questions, and bringing an open mind to some of the ideas that we wish to present. I think it’s important people are open to bringing some vulnerability to the idea of consent and being willing to potentially shift from more traditional victim blaming ideas, as well as being more open to learning about the causes of assault and abuse.

We over time hope to share educational material that could be confronting to our preconceived and lifelong beliefs. I think people can support the movement by just being open to it.

What do you do when you’re not busy with State of Consent? 
Katie: I am a mother, child restraint technician and educator, and a photographer.

Dando: I work part time, I’m doing a degree in social work, I’m a fulltime mother, I help run the local baby wearing club and I do graphic design on the side.

EJ: Raise my three babies, train and perform in cirque arts, create music, contribute to and organise local events, hang out at school and playcentre, devise cunning strategies to save the world and foster community. Yoga at Escape up to six times a week keeps me sane.

If you could meet any three people from history, who would you pick and what would you talk about?
Katie: Diane Arbus, a photographer in the 1950s who’s black and white images of marginalised people in New York absolutely captivates me. I’d love to speak to her about what pulled her into the art she chose to make and how she navigated such a controversial style of photography. She worked with trans/gay/lesbian people at such a controversial time and that would have taken some epic confidence!

Dando: I would love to meet Stephen Hawking. I’d also be pretty keen to chat with Kate Sheppard.

EJ: My tribal ancestors. I mourn the loss of my clan. I don’t know what I’d speak about, but I would watch, and learn, and remember how to live in a space where isolation is not the biggest cause of death.

  • You can follow State of Consent on Facebook or Instagram. The State of Consent team would also like to give a shout out to Access Radio Taranaki, Koru on Devon, Beccy Boopy Pole Studio Waitara, NP Sexual Health Clinic and Green Door Cafe for their support.

Safe To Talk (sexual harm helpline) 0800 044 344 or text 4334
Text to Talk (Ministry of Health free text counsellor) 1737
Mosaic (Men’s confidential listening service for survivors) text or call 022 419 3416
Outline (LGBTQIA+) 0800 688 5463