In October 1977, a series of killings of women took place in Los Angeles. The media dubbed the killer the "Hillside Strangler." By December of that year, twelve women had been murdered. In Mourning and In Rage, a public ritual in protest against the media sensationalization of the victims of the Hillside Strangler, was performed on 13 December 1977 on the steps of City Hall in Los Angeles. It took the form of a funeral procession complete with a hearse and sixty women mourners led by a motorcycle policeman. After circling City Hall, the procession stopped, and nine women, dressed in mourning, emerged from the hearse. They stood on the steps of City Hall and read statements about various aspects of violence against women, ranging from critiques of the media to the connection between violence in the media and violence against women. After each statement, the chorus of women mourners chanted, "In memory of our sisters, we fight back." This chant also appeared on a banner that formed the backdrop for the piece.
For In Mourning and In Rage, Labowitz and Lacy turned the figure of the woman mourner in black into an angry crusader for women's empowerment. The mourners wore headdresses to make them appear seven feet tall. The exaggerated height of the women enhanced their visual impact and made them appear more menacing. During discussions with various participating groups, Labowitz and Lacy discovered that women objected to the passive depiction of the woman mourner, so they included a tenth woman, dressed completely in red, to symbolize women's rage.
The image below appeared in the Los Angeles Times on the day after the performance with the caption "Veiled women holding a militant memorial service on the City Hall steps."
Labowitz and Lacy designed press events as performances rather than merely using the media to disseminate a message. Labowitz and Lacy shared their three-part strategy of choosing an appropriate site, using text to state their message, and manipulating the media with the feminist community in journals as varied as Heresies, Frontiers: A Journal of Women's History, and Proceedings of the Caucus for Art and Marxism.
Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz performing In Mourning and In Rage with Feminist Studio Workshop members on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. Courtesy of Maria Karras.
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