One day I will make a mace, but for now I have a mouth

Detailed view of the top of a blue, hexagonal ceramic rattle with a wooden handle, revealing the image of a line drawing of a coiled snake on the top of the rattle.

Content Note: This artist project includes descriptions of sexual violence and harassment.

Animated gif of a line drawing of an eye morphing into an image of two snakes laid flat in the shape of a mouth
Elana Mann, Evil Mouth Talisman, 2021 (artwork © Elana Mann; produced in collaboration with Colleen Corcoran)

(For Andrew Cuomo)
I draw a line and then another.
You know its borders, its curves, its boundaries. I don’t need to remind you, “No.”
I am just like any other—
I try to put people at ease.
I try to make them smile.
I try to connect with them.
On occasion I do slip and say “fuckhead,” “asshole” and “ewww” when my employer licks his lips and calls me “sexy,” when my professor propositions me, when a naked stranger sneaks into my bed and forcibly tries to have sex with me.
I am luckier than most because I escape.
It’s the same old boring story.
My lines have been crissed and crossed like a million others.
I heard the things they said to justify their actions and I wish I could unhear them.
Their words like sharp tacks, engraving themselves into our collective memory.
I look to the snake, forever shedding its skin, trying a new identity, a new look, a new job.
I scratch and seethe,
I breathe,
I shake.

Elana Mann, One day I will make a mace, but for now I have a mouth, 2021, color film, sound, 1:47 min., directed, edited, and produced by Elana Mann, camera by Ian Byers-Gamber (artwork © Elana Mann)

Project statement

In 2019 I began to make a series of protest rattles that I would bring with me to street demonstrations and marches. My choice to design a personal protest instrument was a pragmatic one: I have a very quiet voice and I always grow hoarse when shouting in public. The first protest rattles I made simply said “YES” and “NO.” They were lightweight, durable, and easy to transport. I was pregnant with my second child at the time, so perhaps I was also picturing an instrument that I could one day use with my daughter.

My experience on the street with these rattles was invigorating, and I expanded the series. Each rattle has different words, colors, and sounds. I call the series Unidentified Bright Objects, after an MRI revealed that I have bright spots in my brain. I imagine the sound of each rattle syncs up with my brain waves.

The protest rattles I made for Art Journal Open are numbers sixty-one and sixty-two in the series.

For this commission, I envisioned a sonic equivalent to the evil eye symbol. Evil eyes are very prevalent in my Jewish culture, but there is no symbol to defend oneself against lashon hara (or “evil tongue” in Hebrew). This image of an evil mouth repellent came to me after hearing former Governor Andrew Cuomo defend his acts of sexual harassment and abuse toward his employees. Although these protest rattles were produced with Cuomo in mind, my “evil mouth” talismans are meant to protect one’s ears from any kind of evil talk, misinformation, or alternative facts. They are ritual objects made for our time, a time when there is a desperate need for the truth to shine through a muddy pool of stink and lies.

Special thanks: Nicole Archer, Jean-Paul Leonard, Corey Fogel, and Hanna Lyon.

Elana Mann explores the act of listening and the power of the collective voice through sculpture, performance, and community engagement. Since 2014 she has created sculptural instruments that are designed to be used by musicians, audiences, and activists alike. In her artwork, listeners become performers, protests become musical, and music becomes protest. Mann is based in Southern California.