The world had Frida Kahlo for 47 years, and we did not celebrate her for nearly enough of that time. For many years, much of Frida's talent was overshadowed by the work of her husband. It was Diego Rivera who was credited with having a unique style and a profound impact on international art and social change.
It wasn't until the late 1970's, almost twenty years after her death, that Frida's work was rediscovered by art historians and political activists. Today she is considered to be a feminist icon.
I'm particularly drawn to the way that Frida's art was a response to the chronic pain that she lived with for much of her life. She was able to take the trauma that she experienced, and create something from it. This didn't magically make her pain disappear, but it is a powerful reminder of how creativity acts as a translator.
I truly believe that at this turning point in history, as women are stepping forward in our millions, to share our stories and speak honestly of our struggles, it will be our creativity which will shape the path forward.
I do not want us to only be celebrated for our part in this movement once we are dead.
One of the things that I am intent on doing is celebrating the living. We walk amongst remarkable women every single day. And they are often over looked, almost always under paid, and are rarely household names. Yet they are getting up and showing up and they are shaping a movement.
A project that I am particularly passionate about is The Women's Building in NYC. The site, a former women's prison, is being transformed from a place of incarceration, into a space of activism and engagement.
“The Women’s Building stands for what’s possible when the potential of girls and women is nurtured, rather than locked away. Through its very structure and planning, it serves a new kind of justice, one based on collaboration, partnership, fairness and equity.”
I have been supporting this project since I first saw Gloria Steinem post about it in June 2016. Since then, I've been following the progress of the development of the building and impatiently awaiting more news of when the site will officially be open.
But more than that.
The Women's Building is seeking input from formerly incarcerated women in order to help them reimagine the space. This means that women who were once shunned from society are now being given an opportunity to have their voices heard. To contribute towards something in a meaningful way. To be a part of the creation of a space that represents freedom and opportunity.
"... the work inside these walls will improve lives on the outside, with greater creativity and cohesion. It will also pull the outside in, through public lectures, conferences, performances and art. A transformed building, dedicated to a transformed world."
This is a big deal. A really big deal.
Because all too often, women are left out of decision making processes. Our needs are pre-determined for us by those who are deemed to know better. We are handed the final package, rather than being consulted at planning stage.
What does it feel like to be included?
What does it feel like to be asked?
What does it feel like to be listened to?
Last September, I went to the Women's Building block party in Chelsea. It was an opportunity to meet local community groups and women-led organizations, and also a chance to share our vision for what a Women's Building might look like.
It was there that I spoke to one of the team members who had previously been incarcerated at the site, back when it was Bayview Correctional Facility. This woman, who found everything so very changed upon her release, spoke to me of how it felt to be a part of this rebuilding. She also said that some of the other previously incarcerated women would be returning to the former prison, this time as part of the construction team. They would be tearing down their old cells.
The prison was evacuated just before Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012. The inmates were dispersed to other facilities upstate. The building sustained damages and never reopened. Until now.
This is what we do after storms. We rebuild. We take the pieces and we put them back together. We also have a chance to reassess. To decide how the foundations are laid (and by whom), which pieces have a place in the present, and which pieces belong in the past.
Just because a building (or a body) once housed addiction and trauma, it does not mean that it cannot know liberation.
Frida Kahlo's art was her self expression. She was documenting her own living. She was giving the world a window into her own experiences as they unfolded. I wish that more attention had been paid to her voice whist she was still alive to use it.
We have an opportunity now to notice the women around us who are using their voices today. We have a chance to witness. To elevate. To amplify. To make a difference. To use our creativity as a translator. Every community counts. And so does every action. Do not doubt your contribution. Do not disbelieve the magnitude of small, consistent steps.
I think Frida would approve.
As part of this monthly offering, I’d love to invite you to join this conversation and take your questions/suggestions on future topics to explore. Thank you for being a part of this ever evolving journey. I’m beyond happy to walk this path with you.