Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Older Women Artists and The Art of Living

In a recent article in the Financial Times, journalist Rachel Spence discussed a topic rarely mentioned in the art world: the OWAs; Older. Women. Artist. I want to applaud Ms. Spence for her wonderful piece as it shed light on a rather unexplored subject.

This brilliant article explored the lives of several female artists whom are currently exhibiting at the Frieze Art Fair in London. Artists including Letizia Battaglia, Teresa Burga, Geta Bratescu, and Carmen Herrera - who had until now seldom found acknowledgment outside their own countries - are gaining international recognition for their work. The interesting twist, however, is that these artists are all in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s. Their art is one with depth and feeling, which has evolved through a lifetime of experience, and it has something to say which is worth listening to.

I am an OWA. Although I have been painting my entire life, it was not until my late 60s that I began exhibiting my paintings. My life has always been one of an artist, but I was never able to fully devote time to my craft; and looking back, I am grateful for all the life lessons I had then, because it has shaped the artist I am now. My travels around the world and exchanges with all of life's trials and tribulations have molded my work. I have witnessed the determination and will of individuals and communities to triumph in the face of often seemingly insurmountable odds. Their strength of mind and resolve are a continual lesson to me - one that helps shape the development of my own art.

As an OWA, I feel blessed for having lived so much because it has allowed me to translate my first-hand experiences onto the canvas. I see my work, and the work of all OWAs, as documentary. We record the frailty and strength of the human spirit, and in every new piece of art we create, we are able to instill a lifetime of experience. It is an expression of continued vitality, one of depth and feeling, which has evolved through generations of life-long learning and practice. Our work is not just a reflection of the past, but also a declaration of a vibrant and energetic future full of growth. I think that richness is something worth paying attention to.

"If", a poem by Rudyard Kipling, illustrates what I believe to be an OWA: "If you can fill the unforgiving minute/with 60 seconds' worth of distance run/yours is the Earth and everything that's in it..." We have and will continue to live life to the fullest. Our art is a blessing to all because it shows how strong the human spirit -- the woman's spirit -- can be. We have survived wars, discrimination, stereotyping, and oppression, but through it all we have endured, turning hardship into something beautiful. I encourage everyone who aspires to create, from young upstarts to OWAs like me, to keep pursuing your passions. Keep creating, working and learning; and always be proud of what you have overcome for the time will arrive when your gift will be recognized by the world.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

My Praise for Spirits Like Malala

Millions of young girls throughout the world suffer hostility, deprivation, and abuse of every kind because of their efforts towards education. I was one of them.

Having been born a girl into an almost feudal European family during the Second World War, there were very few opportunities to receive an education. I first attended school at the age of 9, and I was a very curious child who wanted to know everything. From the very first day, though, it was a struggle for me to continue because of the views of my family members. My grandfather, uncles, father, and even some of my aunts discouraged me from going, saying, "Good girls stay home and tend to family needs. Only bad girls go to school, where they learn to smoke and wear short skirts!" I remember my grandfather would cruelly beat me if he thought my dress was too short. He would constantly pressure me to drop out; every day, every month and every year, it was always the same - but I knew within my heart that I was doing the right thing.

In the beginning, I was very lucky because my primary and secondary education was free. I excelled at learning and as I completed my basic classes, I knew I wanted to continue with higher classical studies. The closest school that offered these advanced courses was in the city of Split, which was 25 kilometers away. The bus ticket I would need to travel to this school cost 1400 dinars. That was a very large sum for my family who had very little money - hardly enough to buy our daily bread! To earn the money for my trips, I worked as many jobs as I could and saved every cent I made. I was busy seven days a week: my school was held Monday through Saturday, and on Sundays I would knit jumpers for my neighbors and work every extra job I could find.

I saved enough money for my classes in Split and eagerly started the next chapter in my education. There were five other girls who attended the higher education classes with me, but one by one, the difficulties and intolerance they encountered forced them each to drop out. I was the only one who finished.

Through my hardships, pain, hunger, and lack of sleep, I fought on and earned my education. As a result, I learned a magic language in my communist country: English. Because of it, I met my husband and we started our life together. My education unlocked many doors that would have otherwise stayed eternally sealed. To this day, my family and I will never forget the importance of education, especially for women, as we strive to continually support educational efforts in impoverished areas.

Anyone can count seeds in an apple - but who can count the apples in a seed? Malala, my heart goes out to you today. You are an inspiration to all those working for educational rights, and the blessings of women all over the world are directed to you. We hope you get better, for you are a great leader - and a great seed for the world.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Women Are Destined for Greatness

Sister; wife; mother; daughter; artist.... These are a few things that identify who I am in this world. One, however, stands above the rest, marking me as special: WOMAN.

Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Emily Dickinson, Georgia O'Keefe, Harriet Tubman, Mother Theresa, Margaret Thatcher. Each of these women share a common bond: greatness through perseverance, dedication, and individuality. These women were monumental leaders of their time who paved the way for us today. I admire each one of them for their unprecedented creativity in difficult times. Their work in the fields of politics, philanthropy, poetry, freedom, religion, and art, is a continual reminder to all women today that we all possess the power of greatness.

Women must work to empower and motivate others and I strive to portray this through my art. I want my art to inspire the women I paint as well as the women who see it. Art is a catalyst for greatness and creativity and it is my goal that other women will be motivated through this form of expression.
Throughout my life, I have been blessed with incredible opportunities to travel the world and each new place presents an opportunity to connect with and learn from the various cultures I visit. One of the most resonant experiences across the multiple continents, countries, and cultures I encountered, was that of the female bond, and as a female artist, I feel compelled to record the women I encounter. In my paintings, I try to capture scenes of celebration and joy, daily interactions and friendships, and comfort and support in times of loss that all women experience.

My travels have allowed me to witness firsthand the significance and power women play in daily life. In Japan, women comprise the foundation of a highly disciplined and ritualized form of art: the tea ceremony.

The tea ceremony in Japan is one of the most revered and famous customs and it has been a monumental part of Japanese culture for thousands of centuries. The tea ceremony is an example of the creative influence women have in society. Drinking tea is an activity most people consider to be a simple and almost thoughtless process. The women that perform the ceremony however, elevate the action into a meditative art form. As a collective group, these women become a creative power, one that extends into almost all aspects of Japanese life. Their devotion, discipline, and dedication are inspiration to me and act as a constant reminder to always strive for creative serenity in my work.

During a visit to Hawaii, I was invited to attend a traditional Hawaiian wedding ceremony. This joyous occasion was marked not only by the significance of man joining woman, but more importantly that of the bride's metamorphosis from daughter, to wife, and eventually, mother. The wedding ceremony began with an intimate meeting between the bride and her mother, sisters, and other female companions.

I was struck by this gathering of women because they all represented different "stages" that most of us experience during our lives. As women, we all progress through multiple roles - roles that require us to take on different characters. From daughter, to sister, friend, wife, mother, and grandmother, each role blesses us by providing new and beautiful opportunities to connect with others.
While traveling in parts of Africa, I observed the harsh reality of the pain women suffered due to disease. The women I met had lost everyone they loved to the AIDS epidemic and they were forced to rely on themselves and other women in their community.

These women formed a remarkable support system - one that was instituted out of necessity but had blossomed into a reliable and gentle bond. They provided food, shelter, clothing, and education for their children, and constantly tried to encourage and uplift all those around them. Their endurance and perseverance through hard times was one of the important lessons I have ever learned: you are not alone; you will persevere.

Recently at Ana Tzarev gallery in New York, I partnered with a group that I feel exemplifies the female empowerment and strength I try to portray in through my art. Same Sky, a wonderful organization founded by an incredible woman, Francine LeFrak, uses creativity, art, and craft to improve the lives of women in Africa. This group gives women the tools to create jewelry, which is then sold all over the world. Women that work for Same Sky earn an income much higher that normal wages earned in other jobs in the areas. These women are able to use their incomes to provide education, clothing, food, and medicine to their families. Without the creative initiative of Same Sky, many women would be forced to work elsewhere for a substantially smaller income.

I urge all women to support and encourage each other. We must work together to achieve greatness and fight for knowledge and power because it is not always given freely. The great Margaret Thatcher often quoted a passage of the famous Henry David Longfellow poem, The Ladder of Saint Augustine...

"The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept were toiling upward in the night."

This quote holds a dear place in my heart and I feel that Longfellow's poem is poignantly relevant to women. As women we must empower and strengthen each other, constantly encouraging all to work extra hard to reach our goals. What's more, we girls must learn to glide serenely like swans on the surface while pedaling like hell with all force beneath the water, in order to reach greatness. Each one of us has special traits and abilities that make us unique and successful. My unique expression is my art and I hope it provides inspiration to all that experience it. I encourage you today to find and use your own special strengths to awaken greatness in others.