February 9th-Febrary 22nd 2021
By Eleanor Stewart, Studio Assistant
The first week of my internship I was so excited to get started working in a professional studio for the first time in my life! I met Gabrielle Senza when I took an art class with her through Railroad Street Youth Project in Great Barrington. As a young artist myself, RSYP connected me to Gabrielle because she was looking for a new intern to help with a project about contemporary influential women. I was eager to jump on board because, like Gabrielle, I think we are in a time of significant social change and there are so many women at the forefront. Gabrielle explained that her vision of this project was to highlight the work of women who are/were agents of social, political or cultural change in the past 50 years. Our goal was to choose 52 women and create embroidered outlines of their portraits. This number was chosen so that the portraits could eventually be turned into a deck of informational playing cards.
Gabrielle shared with me a list of these leaders that she and her previous intern, Antonia Taylor, had begun. I took a look at that list and saw many names I recognized and some I didn’t. Gabrielle and Antonia’s list included names like Amanda Gorman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Audre Lorde, Greta Thunberg, Lizzo, Adrian Piper, Georgia O’Keefe, Taylor Swift, and many more. I looked through the list and began to add other women I thought were “inspiring and influential.” Then, I googled “Contemporary Influential Women” and added some of the names that were mentioned in different lists across the internet. It was interesting to see how many of these articles just listed women who are “successful” or “wealthy,” as if those are the only qualities of influential people. This became a huge topic of conversation and critique later on in the project.
I learned very early on in this internship the importance of organization, and created folders so certain documents and information could be easily accessed by both Gabrielle and myself. This was especially needed since we were working virtually. I created a document called “Notes on WOI Contributions” and added each woman that I chose or whose name was already on Gabrielle’s list. Then, I noted their contributions to the world, primarily focusing on those with an impact on the USA. I also created a document called “Pictures of Influential Women” and added photos of each woman – one primary, two backup/alternative images, and one Creative Commons photo. I learned about how to filter images in a google search to find Creative Commons images that won’t have an issue with copyright. Before this project, I did not know the “Creative Commons” on the internet was a thing! We wanted photos that showed each woman’s full head and shoulders straight on, not turned or in profile. We also wanted the photos to embody the character of each person. It was fun and inspiring to collect photos of such amazing women! However, after spending some time researching women leaders and coming up with names myself, I realized there were some clarifying questions I wanted to talk to Gabrielle about. These questions were:
What makes someone “Influential?” Are people influential just because they are famous/rich? Are we only focusing on liberal people fighting for the rights of the marginalized/oppressed?
I started to feel stuck on who to add because “influential” can mean something completely different, depending on who you ask. I noticed that a lot of the women I was adding were artists that I liked, who are meaningful and influential to me. Gabrielle mentioned to me that a lot of the women she added were queer, black feminist writers that were influential to her. However, this project is supposed to be about highlighting who is influential to US culture/politics/society as a whole. Despite feeling stuck, I continued my research, adding more women and photographs to our database so that we could move the project forward into the next stages.
Who would you add to your list of contemporary influential women? What does “influential” mean to you? Please let us know your answers to these questions, as well as any other questions or thoughts in the comments below.
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