Activist artists showcase ‘Guarded’ at UAF

Hannah Witherington / Contributor

Currently on display in Arctic Java is “Guarded,” a photographic project created by artist Taylor Yocom. Yocom, along with her friend and collaborator KT Hawbaker-Krohn visited the University of Alaska Fairbanks this past week to share her project, which began as a response to a string of sexual assaults occurring in taxicabs on her campus.

The project features female-identifying college students posing with objects they use to help them feel better protected against the potential of sexual assault. As part of her visit to University of Alaska Fairbanks, Yocom invited students to be photographed as part of the project. Students also had the opportunity to speak with Hawbaker-Krohn about their experiences regarding sexual assault.

Yocom’s “Guarded” art project grew from a discussion Yocom had with her classmates at the University of Iowa, in which they shared with one another the precautions they take and tools they utilize to help them feel safer while walking home at night. This conversation was a groundbreaking moment for Yocom and led her to the decision to make a visual body of work that touched on the issue of sexual assault.

Though the project began two years ago, in March 2014, it gained most of its momentum last May when Yocom submitted her project to a blog, which was then shared by actress and singer/songwriter, Zooey Deschanel. The project went viral and has now been covered globally.

The increased interest in ‘Guarded’ sparked responses from individuals who were particularly moved by the project. Yocom cites these replies as the main drive for the continuation of her project, saying that they helped her to realize “[the project] was too important to not continue.” This motivation was quickly coupled with an interested publisher, and talks of a book soon entered the picture. With the possibility of a book featuring the project, Yocom turned to writer and fellow artist, KT Hawbaker-Krohn.

Hawbaker-Krohn was involved with activism against sexual assault while she was an intern at the University of Iowa and first got involved with the “Guarded” project as a model. She got to know Yocom when the two shared a gallery show, each displaying their own art. The duo has now traveled to multiple universities to share the project and gain participation from interested students.

Reactions to the project have been primarily positive and the duo has seen a significant amount of student involvement from campus to campus. Yocom’s hope for the project is “that people start thinking more critically about campus sexual assault and how to solve it.”

The instances of assault occurring on her campus made her consider what she refers to as “the marriage of art and activism” that led to her project and hopes that “Guarded” reaches individuals who would not have necessarily been aware of the issues surrounding sexual assault otherwise, she said.

More information on ‘Guarded’ can be found at www.tayloryo.com or by visiting the Taylor Yocom Art page on Facebook.

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