By Shelle Vanetten de Sanchez, Ph.D
On a Saturday evening in March 2017, 516 ARTS brought together a fascinating, inter-everything (interdisciplinary, intergenerational, international) panel of women to talk about art, identity, politics, feminism, and self-expression moderated by Megan Kamerick. Margaret Randall (renowned poet and photographer), Doris Difaranecio (self-described “dike Colombian, New Yorker, performance artist), Erin Galvez (young, soft-spoken visual artist), Dagmara Zabska (energetic, outspoken Polish theatre artist/director), and Kelsey Paschich (poised, elegant dancer) sat together in a gallery full of audience members.
The discussion was wide-ranging and full of beautiful nuggets of inspiration and insight. Perhaps, the only threads tying these women together (beyond gender) were creative passion and artistic achievement. There was talk of feminism, women’s issues, and women’s work – ideas that fuel each of these artists at various levels and in shifting forms. Mostly, there was talk of art, creativity, and self-expression.
Each spoke beautifully about art and artmaking and this ultimately connected every loose strand of the discussion. Kelsey spoke not simply of dance, but of “movement as a language that makes transparent the space between dream and reality with spontaneity, juxtaposition, and the element of surprise.” Doris described her socially engaged projects in Chiapas with Mayan artists as “memory and testimony intersected with transformation and activism and beauty.” Margaret, often described by others as a political writer shared, “I resist ‘political’ art – I am political and politics show up in my art, but so does love and nature and beauty.” Dagmara’s description of her theatre work was both literal and metaphorical and is arguably true for many artists, “we are trying to find accurate pictures working with shadows.”
It was encouraging and powerful to see Erin and Kelsey (the youngest members of the panel) seated on either side of Margaret (the eldest of the panel) – not simply the continuum of age, but also as a representation of the arc of life-long creative practice. Erin, finishing her M.F.A., shared that she has a lot of questions about her identity, especially as a Filipina-American. While Margaret confidently said, “I just am who I am.”
Motherhood pushed Kelsey to ask herself, “Now what? What is the purpose of my work?” These questions led her to co-found SHIFT I DANCE to give voice and a platform to many women artists. While 80 year-old Margaret explains, “I went from my middle years when housework and motherhood accompanied every book that I published to my later years when I balanced my own work with my day job. Now, these are my most productive years – I am free to do my own work and work 12 – 14 hours per day. It is wonderful.”
The gift of this wide-ranging discussion was the pure enthusiasm of each woman for her creative discipline and a long list of with inspiration and insight in my notebook. Here are just a few of favorites:
“Our language is being changed – that is my big concern as a writer. Beware of hierarchies and ask more questions.” – Margaret Randall
“Be more focused. Follow your intuition. Be patient. Read. Make love. Don't surrender yourselves to other voices.” – Doris Difaranecio
“I disagree with the fake smile and the pressure to be happy. Don’t be afraid – defeat is just defeat – it’s really not the end of the world.” – Dagmara Zabska
The event “Public Forum: Women Artists Speak Out: Feminism & Creative Expression” was presented by 516 ARTS in conjunction with Women & Creativity 2017 and in partnership with Tricklock Company’s Revolutions International Theatre Festival.
Shelle Sanchez is a planner, facilitator and optimist working at intersections of art, education and community. She serves on the Advisory Board of 516 ARTS.