Tonight the organizers of the show at the A. P. E. Gallery, Observing Ourselves: 50 Women’s Self-Portraits, had an artists’ talk. Six artists were on the panel and many others who contributed to the show, including me, were in the audience. The six panelists, who included the organizers, Jane Lund and Rachel Folsom, talked about how their portraits came about. Then the question was asked of the audience about why the show was so popular. Lisa Thompson, who runs A. P. E., said the show was immensely popular, with people revistiting it, people who knew people with pieces in the show, but also many who just walked in off the street. Of course, when you have dozens of artists, you have all the people associated with them coming to see the show. But that doesn’t quite explain it.
Several people talked about the power inherent in the portraits and the enticing, engrossing mystery of a self portrait. Then it occurred to me that each of our-self portraits is in defiance of how society tells us we should portray ourselves. We weren’t portraying ourselves as skinny and young and sexy; we were portraying ourselves the way we want to portray ourselves in spite of having those images shoved down our throats all our lives. Some of the portraits are fantastical, some very down to earth, they all say something different, but not one was designed to please men.
The feeling of being surrounded by the portraits and the women who made them was a feeling akin to being at the Women’s March in Washington a year ago, that women are rejecting the roles and images and humiliation and subjection that we have borne since time began. It was an honor to be among that group, to have been asked to participate. You could feel the joy of the feeling that things might be changing, that women’s power is strengthening, all multiplied by being in that group.
I have named this post “Presenting Ourselves” rather than calling it by the show’s name, “Observing Ourselves”, because the feeling tonight was that we were all putting ourselves out there, yes, observing ourselves, but more, presenting our own views of who we are, not subject to editing by the male world and it’s values. It was joyful and exuberant, and I know that most of the people in the room were feeling the same way. I want to hold onto that feeling. I hope all women can.
Deep and profound thanks to Jane and Rachel for having the idea and for including me. And for A. P. E. for having the confidence in the concept to put the show on.