Fine art of protest takes over Charlotte yard on Labor Day

Handmaids Tale style protest for women's, reproductive rights

Yard Art founder Deborah Triplett leads Handmaids Tale protest.
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Yard Art founder Deborah Triplett leads Handmaids Tale protest.

If it weren’t for all the protest T-shirts, Charlotte artist Deborah Triplett’s yard on Labor Day would have looked like a garden party. There was a Bloody Mary spread on one table, lots of folding chairs and coolers, even freshly baked zucchini bread and sparkling wine.

Then a crowd of about 40 women got to work, covering the mostly feminist messages on their shirts – “Nasty Woman” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted” were popular choices – with blood-red, full-length robes and covering their heads with tunnel-like white bonnets.

The look was inspired by “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood’s classic book that’s now a popular TV show on Hulu. The event, though, was inspired by Triplett, founder of the annual Yard Art Day, a grassroots event when Charlotteans decorate their yards for Labor Day.

Atwood’s book, about a religious coup that takes over the United States, stripping women of their rights and forcing them to bear children for the ruling class, was written in 1985. Hulu’s version, and especially the vivid white bonnets and red cloaks, have become a popular form of protest over women’s rights and reproductive rights, with a number of costumed events taking place at state legislatures and the U.S. Capitol this summer.

Triplett says the idea came to her earlier in the summer, when she was thinking about what to do in her yard this year.

“Instead of being such a loudmouth on social media, I want to do something. And then, it jumped into my brain. So I just started calling women and they said, ‘Absolutely.’ 

Triplett rounded up about 50 women and held a couple of gatherings at her house – BYOB/MYOB parties, for Bring Your Own Bottle and Make Your Own Bonnet. Artist Linda Vista came up with a template to make the stiff, white-paper hoods, and women started searching online for long, red robes. Amazon was a popular source, and Party City, of course. With Halloween coming soon, Little Red Riding Hood cloaks are easy to find.

With two showings planned, at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday, women started pouring into Triplett’s house near Country Club Drive shortly after noon. The instructions, following Triplett’s choreography: Wear T-shirts showing what you are for or against under your robe.

By 1 p.m., the sidewalk across the street was lined with viewers, many riding bikes or pushing strollers. At 1 p.m. on the dot, the door to the house opened and the robed women slowly marched out, single file, making their way down the driveway and forming three lines.

After standing silently, head bowed, for about 2 minutes, they passed out rolled-up banners that were unfurled and held high: The front one, in mock Latin: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum,” the second, the English translation: “Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down.”

Raising fists and shouting “resist!,” they threw off their robes to show their T-shirts, to cheers and more chants of “resist” from the women and the watching crowd. And then, it was off to enjoy those Bloody Marys.

“It’s just my nature,” Triplett said of the final stage, baring feminist-slogan T-shirts. “I kind of like taking something that could be so somber and a downer and give it a positive spin.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis