These Paintings Are My Everything: Highlighting Women of Color & Female Empowerment at the Asian Art Museum

Musings, Spotlight, Style

asian art museum san francisco mithila painting feminismThe Asian Art Museum is devoted to connecting art to life.  And with their latest exhibit, Painting Is My Everything: Art from India’s Mithila Regionart and life collide to highlight the strength, power, vulnerability, and resilience of Mithila artists — who, of course, happen to be…MOSTLY WOMEN!  As an exhibit that features women of color, I was ecstatic to partner with the Asian Art Museum to further accentuate the brilliant work and lives of these amazing artists.

3110-2018-0228431696152443144227This domestic art tradition, that has been passed down from mother to daughter for generations, was confined to the interior walls of the most intimate rooms in Mithila.  Word of these intricate murals spread beyond the region and during a severe drought in 1966, Pupul Jayakar, a director of the All India Handicrafts Board, saw an opportunity.    She arranged for women to learn how to paint on paper, enabling those women to sell their own work and gain economic independence — something many women from this region had never experienced.  Jayakar’s plan not only empowered village women, but ultimately sparked the economic resurgence of the region.  Moreover, the newfound artistic and financial success of these artists inherently breaks the boundaries of gender and caste norms.

On the other side of the world, we’ve seen a surge of female empowerment apparel in fast fashion.  Consumers can now physically show their support for gender equality every day while feeling cute and fashionable.💁🏻‍♀️  To emphasize the powerful and unique stories of these female Mithila artists and the subjects of their paintings, I’ve styled female empowerment pieces that coordinate with the exhibit’s colorful and feministically charged paintings.  From almighty deities, to the emotional life stories of the artists, Painting Is My Everything, showcases a myriad of female stories and perspectives that celebrate the resilience and strength of women.

Asian Art Museum Mithila painting feminism Target Vital Voices

Hindi deity Kali, is a fierce mother goddess and represents the force that controls time and divine wisdom that ends all illusion. She is the personification of creative and destructive powers of time and could be interpreted as a representation of women’s assertiveness and power.

One company that recently created feminist apparel in collaboration with Vital Voices is Target.  And in line with the collection’s raison d’etre, Vital Voices “supports fearless women leaders around the world to amplify their voices and increase their impact in their pursuit of economic empowerment, public and political leadership, and the protection of all human rights.”  Each design was created to celebrate the passion, strength, and undeniable power of women.

Asian Art Museum Mithila Painting Target Vital Voices

Artist Mahasundari Devi depicts children painting on sheets of paper instead of on walls, suggesting the shift to personable salable art.

Aside from the power of economic independence, Mithila artists also found power in using painting as a means for personal storytelling and reflection. The artist’s personal perspectives and life experiences often serve as the subjects for their work, which allows their stories to be heard and validated. Through painting, their voices became important narratives rather than being easily dismissed.
Asian Art Museum Mithila Painting Shanilee Kumari Target Vital Voices

Shalinee Kumari pays tribute to the “great goddess” Devi and celebrates women through her use of composition and symbolism.  Here, Devi is shown holding various objects, which are usually associated with other deities. Wielding these various objects conveys Devi’s immense and numerous powers and is position as a mighty goddess that embodies the power of women.

One artist whose paintings are greatly influenced by personal perspective is Shalinee Kumari.  Originally studying geography, Kumari decided to start painting after discovering colorful Madhubani paintings. When she headed to women’s college, she heard about the Mithila Art Institute and applied to be admitted into the program. She is now one of the young female artists who is pushing the boundaries of Mithila painting by using the centuries-old style for personal self-expression.  Her work often focuses on global, personal, and community topics such as climate change, terrorism, and gender equality.

In Daughters are for Others, Kumari comments on social roles of Indian women as daughters, wives, and daughters-in-law. The painting’s title evokes the perspective of the girl’s parents and hints at the emotions of loss and resignation. The tight arrangement of the yellow and orange footprints, which reference the Hindu marriage rite of circumambulation of the sacred fire, feels like an impenetrable wall and creates a domestic space. Confined inside the space are two women whose conjoined form recall images of powerful goddesses. Though the true meaning may not be entirely known, Kumari cleverly combines decorative qualities and serious content to create a tension that makes this painting impactful.

Asian Art Museum Mithila Painting

Devi makes use of a style that was traditionally employed only by members of her caste. It is distinctive for its linear bands filled with dots and for its paper that is coated with an auspicious cow dung wash that recalls a mud wall.

One of the most educated and continually innovative artists among the lower-caste Dusadh community (aka “untouchables”), is Shanti Devi.  Many of her works depict everyday subjects, but she beautifully injects them with new meaning.  In Pregnant Cow, Devi surrounds the cow with blooming flowers, sprouting buds, and multiple bees to convey nature’s bounty and fertility.  In her intention to depict a common subject, Devi has instead instilled powerful meaning into it.

Asian Art Museum Mithila Painting Phenomenal Woman Target Vital Voices

In 1976, Devi traveled to Washington DC to participate in the Smithsonian’s annual Festival of American Folklife.  She subsequently created several paintings that document her experiences through personalizing and transforming iconic monuments such as the Capitol Building, Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, and Arlington National Cemetery.

Sita Devi is perhaps one of the most phenomenal women amongst Mithila artists.  She was one of the earliest village artists to paint on paper and her work immediately attracted attention in the 60s. Her paintings received government and private commissions, won national awards, and warranted solo exhibitions.  All of which brought wide-spread attention to Mithila paintings and paved the way for other Mithila artists.  Over the course of her life, she worked tirelessly to develop and uplift her village and community through education and economic empowerment.  She paved the way for many, if not all, the amazing artists featured in this exhibit.

Asian Art Museum Mithila painting female empowerment

Reflective of Bihar’s electoral landscape, female supporters are shown at the bottom of the painting.  In recent elections, women have turned out the vote and are thereby influencing policy changes in the state.  In this painting, Devi shows the powerful influence of the female vote in India.

Dulari Devi is another artist that lived in extreme poverty until she became an accomplished painter.  She worked menial jobs, but her unhappiness with her life began to change when she started to visualize everyday occurrences as paintings.  And with a with a stroke of good fortune, Devi began working in the house of a Mithila artist who would host artist trainings.  Fascinated by the paintings, Devi eventually asked if she too could be trained to paint and thus was the beginning of her new life.  And when strong women unite, the possibilities are extraordinary and endless.

Asian Art Museum Mithila Painting

Baccha Dai Devi’s The Hindi deity Shiva in half-male, half female form, Ardhanarishvara is the combined form of Shiva and Parvati. The right half shows Shiva in his male form and the left represents the female aspect, Parvati.  Ardhanarishvara represents the combination of masculine and female energies of the universe and the unity of opposites. And despite being opposites, the two are inseparable.

The sheer desire to create saleable paintings in and of itself is a powerful act of independence for many of these Mithila artists.  Many were living in extreme poverty and had little to no control over their own lives, so wanting to produce art is a defiant act against strong gender and caste norms.  And whether Mithila artists are painting otherwordly deities or day-to-day life, painting has given them opportunity, choice, freedome; painting has given them everything.  And I felt so honored to help tell their stories and be inspired by their pieces.  It was everything. 😉

Painting Is My Everything will be on display at the Asian Art Museum through December 30, 2018.  For more information about the exhibit and upcoming exhibit events, visit AsianArt.org.

Asian Art Museum Shanilee Kumari

Artist Shalinee Kumari is second from the right wearing a yellow dress standing in front her painting, “Daughters Are For Others.”

Female empowerment shirts partially provided by:
Kidd Bell & Inkcourage

Photographed by:
Colleen Lem

 

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There is a place in New Orleans – AHS Coven Tour

Musings, Spotlight, Travel
New Orleans walking tour american horror story coven LaLaurie Mansion American Horror Story Coven Witch

Who’s the baddest witch in town?

New Orleans.  Food, jazz music, Mardi Gras celebrations…but I came for the AHS filming locations.😆  American Horror Story: Coven, the third season from the American Horror Story franchise, was actually the first season I ever watched.  I remember seeing commercials for season one and definitely thought it was way too scary for me.  But when commercials for Season 3 started airing, I was strangely drawn to it.  Some AHS fans felt season 3 was too “housewife-y,” but I honestly thought it was great to see a story focused around women and their relationships with each other within the “horror” genre.  I especially loved the show’s focus on the temperamental mother-daughter relationship.  And THANK GOODNESS we also get to see how race, class, and age play a role in those relationships. Like…yes, Ryan Murphy, YES.👏🏼

After doing some research, I found a gem of a walking tour — the unofficial American Horror Story Tour.  Mostly in the French Quarter, the tour is the perfect mix of AHS fandom and historical facts.  Bea, the tour guide, is also just amazing.  She is super knowledgeable about what parts of the show are based on New Orleans history and what parts were embellished or fictional.  And to my surprise, she knew those prime instagram spots AND was willing to help us stop to take photos.  What more could you ask for?! Thank you, Bea!!

New Orleans French Quarter LaLaurie mansionOur first stop was the LaLaurie house.  Not only infamous for being the residence of Madame LaLaurie in the show, but a bonafide haunted mansion and the site of LaLaurie’s torture “chamber.”  In Coven, we are slowly introduced to Madame LaLaurie’s fascination with blood and the human body.  She was filled with “childlike curiosity.”  And that was not a far departure from the truth.  Bea explained how Madame LaLaurie was accused of over-punishing her slaves, but since she had friends that were city officials, she was able to escape any serious charges.  But one time, the evidence was undeniable.

While hosting a party, the kitchen, which was in a separate back annex of the house, caught fire.  After rescuers extinguished the fire, they found a 70-year-old woman chained to the stove.  She later revealed that she started the fire to escape Madame LaLaurie’s torture and then led authorities to the attic where other slaves were imprisoned and tortured.  The evidence and testimonials were overwhelming.  So much so that her and her husband fled New Orleans shortly afterwards.  However, in Coven, the family’s disappearance is due to Marie Laveau’s revenge against LaLaurie. Below is the green iron gate where Madame LaLaurie and Marie Laveau first meet and Laveau’s plan for retaliation is set into motion.  In the show, it is shown as the front gate to the LaLaurie house, but is actually part of the neighboring building.

American Horror Story Coven LaLaurie Laveau Voodoo Kathy Bates Angela Bassett

New Orleans French Quarter American Horror Story Coven Witch

Even though the two women never met IRL, they lived within walking distance of each other in the French Quarter.  Marie Laveau, aka the Voodoo Queen, was renowned in New Orleans and obviously was included as a character in Coven.  She was the first practitioner to popularize Louisiana voodoo.  And honestly, learning more about Marie Laveau was probably my favorite part about this tour.  In the show, Marie is almost positioned as a villain against not only the Coven’s Supreme, but also Madame LaLaurie.  Both white women.  But hearing about Laveau’s real story, I was amazed to learn that not only was she a healer in the community, but she was also devilishly smart.

Accurately shown in AHS, Laveau was a hairdresser.  And she would occasionally offer her healing “powers” to clients.  Afterwards, she would simply tell clients to pay what they felt her help was worth.  She knew satisfied patrons would usually overpay because they were so grateful for her services.  Slightly Godfather-ish, but so admirable for a woman of that time to be so business savvy.  And though it’s not thoroughly shown in the series, we do see glimpses of Laveau’s business acumen.

When Laveau had daughters, she would give them her name, Marie Laveau, with different middle names.  The daughters looked just like their mother, so when the daughters were out, Laveau ensured that they were in different parts of town.  When townspeople asked who they were, the daughters of course replied “Marie Laveau.”  Baffled, people began to believe that Marie Laveau was actually getting younger!  And since Laveau and her daughters were never in the same place at the same time, no one knew otherwise.  This urban myth is also written into the show as LaLaurie and the Supreme meet Laveau in the hopes of obtaining her secret to “everlasting life.”

For Marie Laveau to build such a reputation during that time in history is impressive and inspiring.  Complete #girlboss behavior.  Granted she benefited greatly from the Code Noir, Marie Laveau found a way to make herself a legend.  If I ever have to answer that icebreaker question about the one person I’d like to meet or have dinner with, Laveau would definitely be at the top of my list.

New Orleans Saint Louis cemetery Marie Laveau American Horror Story Coven

Saint Louis Cemetery

Our walking tour also took us to the Saint Louis Cemetary.  Not only the site of Nicolas Cage’s semi-outrageous pyramid-shaped tomb, it is also home to Laveua’s tomb.  Upon visiting her tomb, it’s evident how influential Laveau was.  To this day, people still visit her tomb to make a wish.  If the wish was granted, they revisit her grave and mark a triple X as proof.  And if you see a lonely hair-tie or bobby pins, do not take them.  Those are gifts left for the hairdresser, Laveau.

Our last stop was the street where the infamous witch’s walk takes place.  It definitely didn’t feel as eerie as it seemed on the show since there were tons of tourists and cars around, but I made the most of it and strutted my witchy self up and down the sidewalk a couple of times.  And now I understand why all the girls of Miss Robichaux’s Academy For Exceptional Young Ladies complained so much about the heat.  Yeah, it’s hot and humid, but wearing an all black and mostly covered ensemble IN the heat is an entirely different story.

New Orleans French Quarter walking tour American Horror Story Coven Witches walk

If you haven’t watched AHS: Coven, please set up a fort in your house and watch it ASAP.  I personally love that it’s rooted in New Orleans history and shows the relationships, successes, and struggles of powerful women and women of color.  It is a treasure trove for exploring the intersecting identities of women.  And if you ever find yourself in New Orleans, please book this tour!  You get to learn more about one of the most kickass women in New Orleans history and grab yourself a few insta worthy shots…there’s really nothing to say “no” to here, ladies and gents.😏

ABW

Spotlight: The Golden Mickey’s Show on the Disney Wonder

Musings, Spotlight
golden mickey

“Lights, cameras, acceptance speeches!”  On our first night aboard the Disney Wonder, we caught the Golden Mickey’s show.  In my previous post, I mentioned how I cried my eyes out during the “heroism” part of the show, which showcased Tarzan, Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Mulan.  Now you would guess that I would have cried hardest for the Mulan number.  But it was actually quite the opposite.

The sequence consisted of a “karate-style” dance to Be A Man, which is fine.  That’s how the scene is in the movie.  But there weren’t even any Asian dancers in the mix. 😑  Granted, we were sitting in one of the back rows, but I’m pretty sure Mulan and Li Shang were white performers.  And let’s get real for a second.  If this were a Princess and the Frog segment, and Tiana came out as a white person, that wouldn’t fly.  And not even as a white person wearing blackface, just literally as a white actor playing Tiana.  But when it comes to white people portraying Asians or Asian Americans, it’s much more acceptable. Just look at all these movies that have committed whitewashing.  And studios don’t seem to see anything wrong with that.  And that’s frustrating.

GM mulan

Photo of Mulan sequence above found on google images.

Now those who are familiar with the Asian or Asian American experience, probably know that more often than not, Asians love to emulate white/western culture.  Bigger eyes, lighter skin and hair, pointier noses.  And Asian Americans specifically tried to be more “white” to better assimilate into American culture.  So this craving to distance the group from “Asian-ness,” from being seen as foreigners, would seem to be the culprit for letting a white actress play Mulan like it was no big deal.  But of course, as with any issue related to race or intersecting identities, there is so much more to this than just wanting to be “less Asian.”  But I won’t hold you captive here.

My end game again is this — Tiana, Disney’s first black princess, is now part of many different Disney attractions and shows.  But Disney knows not to hire a white woman to play Tiana.  They would never imagine to do that (I would hope at least).  But for some reason, it’s ok to have a non-Asian play Mulan in a live show.  Do Disney and other entertainment powerhouses get away with it because Asians are the model minorities who won’t make a big fuss over it?  Maybe they figure there isn’t as much backlash to be had because many Asians have wanted to attain a certain level of “whiteness” for so long now that it’s almost second nature?

And for some reason, the only way to get something like this to change is to make a fuss over it.  To be vocal about it.  But why do we always need to rally?  It’s tiring!  I’m tired of having to point out the obvious.  But I guess what’s obvious to me, isn’t always obvious to others.  Oh how I long for the day when the people running these entertainment companies finally realize that accurate, yet diverse, portrayals and representations of POC are necessary.  Anything other than that is unacceptable.

*end rant*

ABW

Note: These comments are my own opinions and this is just what I’ve observed and encountered in my life.  Also, I understand that Disney has made huge strides, specifically in recent animated films, to be inclusive of different ethnic groups.  In this post, I am speaking specifically about the one show I watched while aboard the Disney Wonder.  This could very well have been a one time occurrence, but white actors were still used to portray Asian characters, so my opinions are based on that incident. 

Spotlight: Keiki Collection

Musings, Spotlight

IMG_2862

Earlier this month, I hopped over to Hawaii to spend some quality time (read: eating time) with my sister and mom.  Over the weekend, we decided to eat at Scratch Kitchen and Meatery.  Before talking about the Keiki Collection, you have to know something.  If you’re ever in the area, you HAVE to try at least one of  the “Pimp My Grits” dishes from Scratch Kitchen.  Just…ugh…so good.  A quick pic and then we’ll move on:IMG_2848

To walk off this amazing, but super heavy grits, we decided to shop around South Shore Market.  Picked up a copy of Alexa Chung’s It and a pair of delicate rose gold heart earrings, but the best pleasant surprise was running into a small pop-up shop from Keiki Collection.  Keiki Collection is a community of kids that learn how to sell their handmade goods.  But we should honestly call them mini #Girlbosses.💁🏿💁🏾💁🏽💁🏻💁🏼  Sidenote: There are young boys in the group too, but none were there that day.

IMG_2852I remember when I was younger, my mom and I would do the same thing.  We’d figure out what kind of crafts we could make to then sell at school holiday craft fairs.  I loved working away making tons of colorful lanyards and decorating hair claws with Christmas tinsel.  It was so fun to be creative and I felt so “official” when we sold them.  And we probably barely broke even each time because everything was pretty much under $5.  But I love that these girls are creating something that they’re proud of and then learning business skills to sell them.  Things you don’t necessarily learn in school these days.

IMG_2865I was most impressed by one girl that made large macrame hanging pot holders.  They were just so impeccably made!  I was so impressed that I ended up buying one even though I don’t really have a place to put it.😅  But it’s a small price to pay to support a young mini girlboss though, right?🤗

We tried our best to buy a little something from each person.  These girls are learning the basics of business and entrepreneurship and that’s just something we had to support.  And Hawaii in general has a pretty diverse population, but can we take a second to recognize that this was also an ethnically diverse group of girls!!  I mean, COME ON!  It’s just so amazing to see young girls of color learning to be entrepreneurs, creatives, and supportive of one another.  It warms my soouuull.💕

IMG_2863If you can, give Keiki Collection a follow on instagram.  They have occasional pop-ups like this one around the island.  Let them know what they’re doing is impressive and important — not only as a young female, but also as a person of color.

ABW