Going pink on purpose

How Midtown resident Gioia Fonda’s fashion whims inspired an international art holiday

Objects in this picture are pinker than they appear. Gioia Fonda serves up a heaping helping of Pink Week.

Objects in this picture are pinker than they appear. Gioia Fonda serves up a heaping helping of Pink Week.

Photo by Larry Dalton

In the art room of a New Jersey high school, a teacher instructs his class to paint pictures using only the color pink. Many students draw hearts or feathery palm trees reminiscent of the artwork on Florida tourism pamphlets. Some, visibly annoyed by the limits of such a prissy hue, reluctantly cover their paper with haphazard pink blobs or the words “I hate pink.” One student, pausing to consider how the color bears relevance to daily life, has a sudden revelation. Pink Floyd! The student scrolls the band’s lyrics in pink tempura with newfound enthusiasm.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, a group of European bohemians gathers in an Amsterdam art gallery. One of them reads aloud in thickly accented English from the pink brochure in his hands, “One could participate just by looking for pink in the world. Take an extra look at your tongue.” The group laughs as the reader sticks his out for examination.

Inside a California courtroom, an attorney offers his final summation. On the lapel of his dark business suit is a pink safety pin and a tag that reads “Pink Week.”

In New York City, a girl sits in a packed subway car. She wears a pale pink dress and shining pink patent leather shoes. In her hand is a child’s ballet case—pink, of course. With a deep breath, she gathers her courage and stands to address the passengers.

“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I’m sorry to disturb your commute, but I thought you might like to know that a special holiday is happening. This week is Pink Week. This holiday has no political or religious agenda. The sole purpose of the holiday is to celebrate the color pink for pink’s sake.”

Most of the passengers stare out the window or lower their heads, ignoring the ramblings of someone who seems to be another of New York’s mentally unstable. A few look on curiously as she opens the ballet case.

“Would you like to see my pink things?” she asks the crowd. She walks down the aisle displaying the contents of her case—ribbons, candleholders, toothbrushes, magazine pictures, Baskin-Robbins tester spoons—each item pink. She then offers everyone Pink Week tags to wear in support of the holiday. A few hands reach out. She places tags on the seats of the more reluctant passengers. Though her throat is hoarse and the response lackluster, she vows to deliver 1,000 tags person-to- person before the week is up.

This pink subway performance artist is the force behind the pinned attorney, the brochures in European galleries and the anxiety of New Jersey high school boys trying to conceal the pink paint staining their hands. She is Gioia Fonda—graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts, substitute teacher, Sacramento resident and the creator of Pink Week.

On a crisp November morning, Fonda answers the door of her Midtown apartment in a pink blouse, rolled jeans and pink tennis shoes. Her long blonde hair is gathered into pigtails with pink elastic bands. Despite her attire and the poster on her door announcing the 8th Annual Pink Week (November 11-17), her home lacks the Barbie® Dream House aesthetic one might expect from a woman so enamored of pink that she’s made her own holiday. Instead, her living room is decorated with thrift-store kitsch, framed pictures and shelves filled with books. The boxes of pink envelopes and brochures stacked on the floor are the only indication of the impending festivities. “Excuse the mess,” she says. “We’ve been busy with Pink Week preparations.”

Fonda owns a vast collection of pink things—stuffed animals, kitchenware, vintage product boxes—but most of these items are stored in the basement until her annual Pink Week party. “I O.D. on pink,” Fonda admits. “By the end of Pink Week, I’m sick of it for a while.” This confession makes the obvious question even more compelling. Why does a seemingly normal girl crusade for worldwide acceptance of a weeklong celebration of pink?

With a smile, Fonda settles on her couch to explain the origins of her holiday, eight years ago while she was attending art school in Oakland. “I decided I’d amassed enough pink clothing that I was going to wear pink for a week,” she recalls. “I told my friends. I was calling it my ‘pink week.’ ” Two friends printed Pink Week posters for her. Others decided to wear pink, too, and a holiday was born.

The next year, she printed 50 official Pink Week tags, which were snatched up immediately. Encouraged by the positive response, Fonda determined to step up her efforts for the third Pink Week—celebrated in New York City, where she’d moved to attend graduate school. She printed 1,000 tags, put on her pink dress and hit the subways to introduce the Big Apple to her holiday.

“That was a lot of work. There’s a lot of crazy people who say stuff on the subway, and people just thought I was nuts. Sometimes they’d try to give me money. A few people were like, ‘Oh! It’s a performance piece,’ and they got into it. … In New York, there’s so much stimulus that people put a bubble around themselves. It’s hard to get at them. It was not the most successful use of my energy that year, but it was definitely a good experience.”

Though Fonda has scaled down her outreach efforts since then, she’s found that Pink Week has a life of its own. She’s had unsolicited invitations from galleries in England and Amsterdam to participate in pink-themed shows. Her mailing list has grown to more than 300 pink participators, including galleries, bookstores, colleges and the aforementioned New Jersey high school. She’s received essays from people hoping to become “Ambassadors of Pink,” and countless letters relating pink experiences from sampling pink food to contracting pink eye.

When Fonda moved to Sacramento two years ago, she brought Pink Week with her. “Every time I get a new community, [the celebration] is much smaller. Last year, it was just my mailing list and the people in my building. This year it’s going to be much bigger.”

Although the Pink Week brochure insists the holiday exists solely to “commemorate pink for pink’s sake,” Fonda admits that the event’s meaning has evolved. “At first it was just about me wearing pink, but then I realized how everyone tries to justify things philosophically. In art school, I’d go to critiques where someone’s painting would be red and everyone would say, ‘It’s about anger!’ and I’d think, ‘It’s just red. Why can’t it be red?’ I had a rainbow sweater that I loved and people would say, ‘I didn’t know you were a lesbian!’ Colors have been stolen. They can’t just be colors anymore; they have to mean things—green for environmental, black for death, white for purity. We have to make colors colors again, because you can’t paint with all this junk attached!” Thus the credo, “During Pink Week, pink just means pink.”

Pink Week also allows Fonda to further her dream of making art more accessible. “After being in New York and exploring the art scene there, I found that everything comes down to how much you can sell it for and whether it’s collectible. I have a lot of ideas about how art should be more affordable, and since no one buys my work, I thought I’d give it away for free!”

Hence Pink Week, Fonda’s “do-it-yourself art” gift to the world. “People can participate and it doesn’t have to cost money and it doesn’t have to be something you keep. It doesn’t have to be serious and you don’t have to have a degree to break it down. It’s just something to do, for fun.” A few suggestions for celebrating eighth annual Pink Week, November 11-17:

For more information, write to Pink Week, P.O. Box 2329 Sacramento, CA 95812-2329 or visit the Pink Week box in the lobby of the Crest Theatre.