Superwomen Assemble: Meet the Women Saving Comics

“Images play a crucial role in defining and controlling the political and social power to which individuals and marginalized groups have access,” stated filmmaker Pratibha Parmar. “The deeply ideological nature of imagery determines not only how other people think about us but how we think about ourselves.”

Ashley A Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

Ashley A. Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

FRESH TALK: Who are the new superwomen of the universe? on June 14 will show how comics, in particular, can highlight what a society values through the heroes they revere. The imagery surrounding heroes often reveals ingrained notions and perceptions of people. In the comics landscape, hulking, white male characters are often the ideals—if not the standards—for heroism. Often the imagery surrounding women, people of color, and other marginalized groups skews towards abusive imaginings or stereotypes. Recently, however, more people within the comics community are making strides to subvert that trend.

Meet the women changing the universe of comics at the final Fresh Talk program of the Women, Arts, and Social Change 2016–17 season. Guest speakers include ComicMix.com columnist Emily S. Whitten as the moderator and Carolyn Cocca, author of Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation. Young Adult author Gabby Rivera will discuss her role writing for the queer Latina superheroine of the Marvel universe, America Chavez. Fresh Talk also features Ariell Johnson, the first black woman to open a comic book shop on the East Coast. “There are a lot of black girl geeks in the world but we are not at the forefront,” noted Johnson. “This store is also kind of a statement—we’re here, we’ve been here and we’re going to keep being here.”

Ashley A Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

Ashley A. Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

Illustrator Ashley A. Woods will share her experiences drawing for the series NIOBE: She is Life, the first internationally distributed comic with a black woman author, artist, and central character. Woods imbues renderings of Niobe, the title character of the series, with an earthly quality that enhances her supernatural features, while not obscuring her humanity. The series, charting the adventures of the fantastical half-elf, half human warrior, explores issues ranging from racism to religion. Woods’s artwork for the series provides long overdue proof that black women in fantasy comics are not out of place. If anything, they are powerful voices that need to be heard.

Save your spot for Fresh Talk on June 14 to meet the new wave of superheroines entering the comic universe, leading the fight for justice and dispelling traditional stereotypes. Follow the conversation through #FreshTalk4Change.

—Kimberly Colbert is a summer 2017 intern in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Setting the Stage with Sibyl Edwards: Women, Arts, and Tech

Courtesy Sybil Edwards

Sibyl Edwards

The Women, Arts, and Social Change community is gearing up for the next FRESH TALK event at NMWA, confronting questions about women’s innovations in science and technology fields. Sibyl Edwards, a designer, strategist, and advocate for women in technology, has a unique perspective on these issues as the executive director of DC Innovates and president of DC Web Women.

Edwards is a leading voice for advancing women in web-based technology, and she also has a BFA from the Corcoran. Edwards said, “In my case it was art that led to tech.” As an art student she found inspiration in science and medical technology as a means of visualizing disease. “But,” she said, “many times tech leads to art. When a coder is introduced to wearables, like Fitbit, they can no longer only focus on tech. The design is just as important.”

Edwards finds inspiration in technologies like the Oculus Rift virtual reality system, “a completely immersive technological experience, with endless possibilities for artists to build entire environments within a device. Think of it as the new wave of installation art.”

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Occulus Rift technology; BagoGames, Creative Commons

Edwards believes in integrating the arts into education, turning STEM—an interdisciplinary movement focusing on the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math—into STEAM with the addition of art. With the arts, Edwards said, “Space opens up for new types of technology, where aesthetics and design are necessary components for innovation.”

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Natalie Jeremijenko, Photo courtesy Manuello Paganelli

NMWA’s March 2 FRESH TALK event poses the question, Can an artist use science and technology to heal the environment? Speaker Natalie Jeremijenko blurs the boundaries between art, science and technology. She seeks solutions for healing people through healing the environment, and like Edwards, her background combines art and technology. The event explores how these leaders might effect social change and empower others, particularly women and girls, to innovate in science and technology.

Edwards said that the Case Foundation, co-founded by speaker Jean Case, “is an organization empowering millennials to find ways in which technology can be used for social justice and advocacy.”

Yet, opportunity continues to be a key issue when it comes to inspiring young women to enter the tech field. Edwards noted that the media doesn’t reflect strong women in technology, showing a more limited stereotype. “For women who don’t fit that strict mold it can seem impossible to make a career in tech.” Mentors can also make an impact: “Most chief technology officers, especially in startups, are men. So for women just starting out in the field, there are few women in power positions to look up to. We need more role models!”

Attend the upcoming FRESH TALK, on March 2 in person or tune in remotely for the live-stream video feed. You are also invited to add your thoughts about women and tech and answers to the question, “Can an artist use science and technology to heal the environment?” on Twitter by using the hashtag #FreshTalk4Change.

—Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell is the public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Designing Conversations for Change

Braving post-blizzard traffic conditions in D.C., nearly 100 guests attended the museum’s third FRESH TALK—part of the new public programs initiative Women, Arts, and Social Change. On Wednesday, January 27, FRESH TALK: Can design be genderless? featured Netherlands-based designer Gabriel Ann Maher, whose work is on view in Pathmakers, and International New York Times design critic Alice Rawsthorn.

Design historian and critic Rawsthorn kicked off the evening with an overview of design, highlighting the ways design informs everyday life and how it is often gender-biased. She discussed the increasingly eclectic and fluid concept of gender identity and how it impacts design culture through digital technology.

Gabriel Maher speaks at NMWA; Photo: Kevin Allen

Gabriel Maher speaks at NMWA; Photo: Kevin Allen

Maher, a designer who identifies as gender fluid, investigates gender through design media. Maher dissected issues of the Dutch magazine FRAME to reveal perpetuated stereotypes of “male” and “female”—from article titles to depictions of men and women designers.

Maher explained how designers direct people’s self-presentation—through clothing that accentuates body shape, or through the act of sitting, in which people claim or relinquish space.

In one of the night’s most repeated and tweeted statements, Maher declared, “Design is inherently genderless but it is designers who create gendered objects.”

The presentations wrapped with a moderated conversation led by NMWA Director of Public Programs Lorie Mertes. Rawsthorn and Maher explored ways that design could become more inclusive—from genderless bathroom signage to TSA body scanners (which are based on an algorithm for male or female forms). The speakers reflected on cultures that embrace and revere multiple concepts of gender. Both pondered how the internet can be a tool for change.

Fresh Talk speakers with guests during Catalyst cocktail hour; Photos: Kevin Allen

FRESH TALK speakers with guests during Catalyst cocktail hour; Photos: Kevin Allen

At Catalyst, a cocktail hour with a topic and a twist, guests became impassioned participants in a conversation sparked by the presentations. They became friends with fellow attendees, discussed perspectives, and focused on actionable steps for change. Here are a few highlights:

1. Seeing the world with new eyes.

Guests felt more aware of their built environments. They began to consider how the world is constructed and how design can create obstacles for gender-fluid people.

2. Empathy is the name of the game.

Attendees introduced themselves and shared details of their identities—which many had never considered aloud. Guests gained a greater understanding of the LGBTQ community, discussed how gender stereotypes are ingrained, and considered the impact of gender labels.

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Left and right: Participants discuss gender and ideas for change; Photos: Kevin Allen

3. Your ideas for social change matter.

Guests were surprised to have such meaningful conversations about the world from inside a museum. Instead of a traditional Q&A, guests provided their own strategies for change. Via comment cards, they completed the phrase “My idea of social change is…”

  • “discuss, discuss, discuss.”
  • “acceptance. Great event!”
  • “to be inclusive.”
  • “looking for new spaces and forums for conversation and questioning.”

The conversation continues online with #FreshTalk4Change. Visit the museum’s website to watch event videos. The recordings of FRESH TALK: Can design be genderless? will be available soon.

Don’t miss the next program, FRESH TALK: Natalie Jeremijenko, Wednesday, March 2. Artist and engineer Natalie Jeremijenko teams up with Jean Case and Megan Smith to discuss “Can an artist use science and technology to heal the environment?”

—Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell is the public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Carrie Mae Weems and the Art of Change

In September, the National Museum of Women in the Arts launched a new public programs initiative, Women, Arts, and Social Change, focusing on women and the arts as catalysts for change. On Sunday, November 15, the museum hosted the second program in the series, FRESH TALK: Carrie Mae Weems—Can an artist inspire social change? The event’s audience provided thought-provoking commentary over Sunday Supper, through Twitter, and via comment cards. Here are a few highlights:

Carrie Mae Weems:  Keynote on an artist’s responsibility:

Weems gave a candid description of her artistic journey, saying that being an artist is “a very difficult thing to do, because you’re constantly living emotionally.”

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Carrie Mae Weems speaks at the second Women, Arts, and Social Change program; Photo: Kevin Allen

Weems’s project Social Studies 101 directly addresses the issues faced by the marginalized community of her hometown of Syracuse, New York. Syracuse has the highest concentration of extreme poverty among African Americans and Hispanics in the country. As part of her project, Weems created and displayed public billboards and lawn signs with messages including, “Stop the Senseless Violence” and “Our failure to respond is the problem!” Weems inspired the audience to think about the impact they can have on their communities.

Can art inspire social change?

Carrie Mae Weems was joined onstage by Raben Group president and founder Robert Raben. Washington Post columnist Lonnae O’Neal moderated the conversation, posing questions about the roles and spaces for art in current social justice movements, concepts of intersectionality, and the relationship between arts and policy.

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Left to right: Lonnae O’Neal, Carrie Mae Weems, and Robert Raben discuss how artists can inspire social change; Photos: Kevin Allen

During the discussion, Raben mentioned that much of what is known about the Civil Rights era is limited to a handful of stories, which have been curated by mainstream audiences. The annual March on Washington Film Festival, produced by the Raben Group, uses film, music, and art to share other relevant stories surrounding the period’s events and heroes—while inspiring a renewed passion for activism. Raben challenged, “If you care about social justice, you must care about changing the narrative.” Tweets about representation, identity, and otherness flooded the #FreshTalk4Change dialogue:

  • @VMPhoto3 quoted Weems [MT] How do you live a life without otherness. Mic drop.
  • @KiaWeatherspoon “Our history is miss-told” @RobertRaben #FreshTalk4Change
  • @eferry “Energized by Carrie Mae Weems on using art for social change #FreshTalk4Change #RBC”

Creating space for change:

Over Sunday Supper, attendees participated in lively discussions on  social justice issues among a diverse crowd. On one comment card, a participant said their experience “changed my opinion of what a museum can be.”

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Sunday Supper attendees discuss social justice with Carrie Mae Weems; Photos: Kevin Allen

Weems prompted the crowd to share their questions about how to integrate art with social change. Many artists in the audience mentioned that they hadn’t considered using art for social justice previously, but hoped to make it a key component in their future art-making practice.

The conversation initiated by Raben, O’Neal, and Weems empowered the audience to take ownership of their own stories as artists and social leaders. The conversation doesn’t stop here. Join the discussion and add your voice on Twitter with #FreshTalk4Change.

—Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell is the public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Righting the Balance: It Doesn’t Stop Here

NMWA’s latest initiative, Women, Arts, and Social Change, kicked off Sunday, October 18, with FRESH TALK: Righting the Balance. The new public program focuses on women and the arts as catalysts for change through a series of “Fresh Talks.”

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FRESH TALK panelists, Left: Maura Reilly, Sarah Douglas, and Jillian Steinhauer, Right: Guerrilla Girl Alma Thomas, Micol Hebron, Ghada Amer, and Simone Leigh; Photo: Kevin Allen

Women at the top of their art-world careers addressed the topic, “Can there be gender parity in the art world?” Curator and event co-organizer Maura Reilly, who wrote the central essay in the recent ARTnews magazine on women in the art world, introduced the event. Discussions featured Jillian Steinhauer of Hyperallergic, Sarah Douglas of ARTnews, Gabriela Palmieri of Sotheby’s, Mary Sabbatino of Galerie Lelong, artist Ghada Amer, artist Micol Hebron (organizer of Gallery Tally), artist Simone Leigh, Guerrilla Girl Alma Thomas, and activist/storyteller Jamia Wilson.

The goal of FRESH TALK is to keep the conversation going, and it wouldn’t be complete without input from participants, advocates, and women. We asked for your feedback during stimulating conversation over Sunday Supper and via comments. This is what you told us:

1. More women need to be heard.

Although the panel featured women from different backgrounds, talents, and career paths—Guerrilla Girl Alma Thomas was a highlight for many attendees—participants want to hear from more women of color and from the LGBT community. The next two FRESH TALK programs push these communities to the forefront of the discussion.

2. It’s time to get loud!

Artist Micol Hebron—one of the most-quoted speakers of the night—said, “If you don’t see something, say something!” When visitors notice a lack of representation of women, persons of color, and the LGBT community in museums, galleries, or other arts spaces, they should speak up! Collective voices can rally against these injustices.

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FRESH TALK attendees share their thoughts during Sunday Supper and through comment cards; Photo: Kevin Allen

3. Arts inequities are a problem for women of all ages.

A vast intergenerational audience exchanged views over Sunday Supper. Emerging women advocates sat with experienced professionals and passionately shared ideas about advancing the conversation. Intergenerational advocacy can be a strong resource in combating inequality.

4. Nonprofit art centers can make a difference too.

FRESH TALK attendees; Photo: Kevin Allen

FRESH TALK attendees Sheena Marie Morrison and Lauren Lyde; Photo: Kevin Allen

Panelists focused on data concerning gender inequity in the arts—particularly in sales and auction prices of art by women.

Nonprofit and alternative art spaces work as resources contesting the status quo. Many institutions thrive under the leadership of women, especially in D.C. We look forward to hearing more about the challenges that local centers face through an upcoming Cultural Capital series.

5. Now is the time to strike!

Fueled with the knowledge of engaging panelists, the event’s participants were inspired to take action. One commenter wants to host a protest for women artists, while another hopes to encourage her university gallery to collect and display work by women. An educator plans to empower her students to continue to challenge inequity.

It doesn’t stop here. Stay tuned for more FRESH TALK programs and get involved in the fight for gender equity in the arts. Mark your calendars for “Carrie Mae Weems: Can an artist inspire social change?” on November 15 and “Change by Design with Gabriel Maher and Alice Rawsthorn—Can design be genderless?” on January 27, 2016.

—Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell is the public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts