Cynthia Hammond, Trees are on my side 2016


Safety Strategies is a collaborative drawing project by Montreal-based artists, Caroline Alexander and Cynthia Hammond. In spring 2016 Alexander approached Hammond with the idea to use drawing as a means to explore and represent gendered experiences of urban risk and safety. In autumn 2016, Alexander and Hammond led public workshops at gallery Studio XX and Concordia University in which they introduced “memory mapping” to 35 participants. Drawing is a powerful way of translating embodied spatial knowledge into a visual form. Mapping memories situates the individual’s personal experience within the shared spatial realm of the city. Memory mapping results in exquisitely unique, biographical drawings that preserve the privacy of their makers, yet illuminate the subjective aspects of public space.


At the outset of the workshops, the organizers informed participants of their goal: to create a public exhibition of drawings and written reflections on urban safety from the perspective of women, self-identified women, trans individuals, members of the LGBTQ community, and women with limited mobility. Participants could choose whether to contribute their drawings and reflections to the exhibition, or take them home, and could make this choice at any stage of the process. They could also choose their degree of anonymity. Participants were then invited to draw a map in response to the question, What are your personal strategies for feeling safe in the city?

The resulting maps show how the search for safety is an ongoing characteristic of women’s daily movements through public space towards work, school, and home. The participants’ drawings are full of pools of darkness to be avoided, as well as trees and greenery that are beautiful in daylight but compromise visibility at night. Staring eyes, long detours, and difficult choices can be found in many of these drawings, while age, class, and race emerge alongside gender as fundamental to the individual’s sense of safety, or lack thereof. Our collaborators’ written reflections express the proximity of ordinary daily experience and extraordinary risk. Tricia writes, “this map represents a decision that I and my daughters must make every day.” Laura asserts, “I do not mean to imply that safety is a choice. When your safety is compromised you do not have a choice in the matter.” Another participant mapped her route home with a line of writing, simply repeating, “run, run, run, run, run, run ...”.


If the gendered dangers of the urban built environment are material and undeniable, then women’s complex negotiations of this environment comprise an under-explored territory. The drawings and reflections on view in this exhibition thus contribute to the larger feminist project of making gendered urban experience visible, that is, something that can be shared, discussed, and understood as fundamental to the design of more equitable, inclusive, and safe cities.


- Cynthia Hammond, 2017


The artists would like to thank Studio XX for including Safety Strategies in the gallery’s 2016-17 programming on the theme of “Public Space”. We also thank Concordia University’s Digital Image and Slide Collection, and the Institute for Urban Futures for their support, as well as the  Laboratoire d'Étude de l'Architecture Potentielle (LEAP), for making this project possible. We are especially grateful to Melissa Palermo for designing the Safety Strategies online exhibition, and to artist Marlene Creates for inspiring this project through her own work with memory maps. Finally, we want to express our deep appreciation to all our collaborators and participants.

Safety Strategies: Space, Gender & the City