|Mural, A Celebration of Spring." Macon Terminal Station. 2018 Community grant project.|
Thoughts on International Women’s Day
Last night I watched “This Changes Everything” a documentary about the underrepresentation of women in the filmmaking industry. I was already perturbed about how few of the new art acquisitions for major collections and museums are by women. (It's just 11% of all new acquisitions, in case you were wondering.) The film added to the fire.
“Things are getting better,” I hear people say. But no, they aren’t. Women want to be equally valued and compensated for their work. And in most cases, they simply want to DO THEIR WORK. It isn’t too much to ask. It is literally the bare minimum.
Today, someone shared an image of the mural I and community volunteers painted at a bus terminal station. The project was a turning point for me on so many levels. Many things still stand out about that experience, both good and bad.
Let’s start with the bad. I lost track of the number of times someone walked up to me to ask who the artist was. The question was directed to me while I was painting. When I smiled and said, “It’s me,” the other person would hesitate for a beat and then politely reply, “Oh!” But some replied with “No, I mean the real artist.” I honestly didn't know what to say. Only men asked this question.
In the mural we painted, three women are celebrating and two are crowning the center figure with a wreath of cherry blossoms. The style is very simple, one I chose so that anyone who wanted to help paint could feel confident in filling in the lines I had drawn on the wall. The figures did not have facial features. They were meant to represent a community of women not a specific person. Countless times I was asked by men why the women didn’t have eyes. But not one asked why they didn’t have mouths. I wondered, Are we only to see and not speak?
I also received lots of propositions, a couple of marriage proposals, and was asked who I worked for. Because I’d have to be working for someone, right?
• • •
By being self employed, I’ve managed to avoid quite a lot misogyny in my career. I’ve had the option to walk away from creepy or domineering clients, and I have. There was one time I had to call in a male friend (Thank you, Dave. Forever grateful.) to complete a design job because the client suggested I leave my husband and be his mistress. I actually wondered, “What did I do to make this person think I would be interested?” And yet I made sure the job was finished on time anyway. What I really wanted was to punch the client in the throat.
• • •
Happily, the good moments while painting the mural were frequent. I got to know some of the people who used the transit system, the bus drivers, and some of our homeless. Wonderful people! So many kind words and encouragement and expressions of appreciation for the work we were doing.
On one of the days nearing completion, I was taking my time with the gold earrings the center figure was wearing. A bus pulled up and a man stepped onto the sidewalk. He stood and watched us for a awhile, came up to me finally and asked in a beautiful South African accent, “Why is the African woman in the center?” I said, “They are crowning her queen.” And he said, “Oh, yes, yes. Our women are queens. Good.” He nodded, gave me the most brilliant smile, patted me on the shoulder, and walked away. Surely he was an angel.