The Women's Building recently commissioned me to do a piece for this year's International Women's Day celebration. The theme for this year's event was "RAW" = authentic, real, powerful, strong, courageous, exposed, vulnerable, peeling away layers to expose the truest self.
This year's production explores identity and image from every angle—cultural, physical, commercial, historical, spiritual... What is a woman's authentic self? What does the entertainment/media tell women about beauty? What are the positive and negative influences that have shaped women's identity and self-image? How is our image different from what is inside of us? What contradictions do we all walk around with?
I must admit that at first glance, this theme was challenging for me. One of initial ideas was to show a woman breaking through a wall with her arms flung open. Another idea was to show a woman smashing a mainstream women's lipstick ad with a sledge happer. But both of these seemed to be too overused, as they have been depicted over and over again in various social jusice graphics. I finally settled with a portrait of a woman with her legs open and a look of defiance in her face. The woman would have two sides to her. One with eyes open and the other with eyes closed. I asked my boyfriend, Estria, to take photos of me sitting in a chair acting out the pose. All was going well, until I got the idea to put a bandage over my eyes and exagerrate the pose. I thought the bandage would be a good idea because it could emblamatize our own [women's] sense of blindness to the constant messages we get about beauty and "proper/desirable" behavior.
I got the idea to peek out from under the bandage. Sort of like...half of me was blind, and the other half was aware. I was having fun with the photo session when the light bulb in my head got brighter. Why not try to look in the mirror, at the other me? The other side of the mirror could be the viewer. That's when I tried this pose. I call this the "shaving" pose. I don't shave my face, but I notice that when men shave their face they look into the mirror with a tilt. This is exactly what I tried.
This was ok, but it still did was not really working. I looked more like a "vato loco" homeboy. And it also did not seem clear to me that the viewer would realize I was peering into a mirror. And then VOILA! I got an even better idea. I decided to actually look into the mirror and get both me and my reflection. Estria shot and shot, and we finally settled on a solid pose. Minutes into this, Tumis Art Director, Tony Carranza, walks into the house, and does some art direction of his own, adjusting my props so that the bandage looked like a REAL bandana and not an old sock. The image below is what we finally decided on. Ahhh, the beauty of collaboration and good timing.
This is the pose I developed for the piece (see finished piece below). Through my creative process, I ended up painting a very elaborate story. For the purpose of facilitating this discussion, I will call the woman in the left "blind-me" and the woman in the right "raw-me." In the piece, the blind-me is wearing a white shirt and the raw-me is wearing a black shirt, symbolizing the pressure we have as women of color to emulate white female standards of beauty. The blind-me is wearing earrings and lipstick. And the raw-me is wearing nothing. I actually wear some lipstick and eye shadow myself... and earrings too. And I admit that while I consider myself a very independent and non-traditional type of women, at times I feel incomplete without my deep red shade on. So I recognize, that at times I need to let go and be more like the raw-me. Both ladies have a tatoo on their arm. The broken heart on the left epitomizes the hardship and sadness that comes with our [women's] failed attempts to be someone we are not, to be thinner, whiter, prettier, taller... the fact is that the oppression and objectification of women can take a toll on on our self esteem. The whole heart represents the wholeness and "raw" emotion we carry within ourselves, just as we are. In the background of the piece, you can see a pin-up calendar with the silouette of a woman, a representation of the messages about beauty that bombard us. It is purposely set to March because it is the month of International Women's day.
This piece is one of my favorite pieces to date. I am especially happy with the breadth of colors I used. I have been told that the colors are too eighties, but then again, I am a hardcore 80's fan. My plans are to make this design into a silkscreen poster. T-shirts of this image will be available for sale at the International Women's Day celebration in San Francisco on March 11th. See info below:
The Women's Building, Loco Bloco and Mission Girls present:
March 10, 11, & 12, 2006
Three evenings of performance, music, & art celebrating International Women's Day.
Where: The Women's Building, 3543 18th Street, San Francisco, CA
When: March 10th, 11th, & 12th, doors open at 7pm, show starts at 8pm
Cost: Sliding Scale $5-10 (under 18) & $10-30 (18 and over)
Event information/Youth Group Discounts/Childcare requests: 415.431.1180 x17