Female Empowerment Meets Creativity at HelloTittie's Creative Chicks Event
Darya Farah Foroohar
May 5th, 2019
On Saturday, in the heart of Williamsburg, Beyond Studios held court to a wide array of artists and performers showcasing their work in HelloTittie’s third annual Creative Chicks art event. HelloTittie is a brand dedicated to empowering women through providing a platform for female creatives as well as offering advice and entertainment through its periodic interviews and blog posts. It’s an honorable and empowering goal, but I’ll admit it – I was a little unsure of what to expect when I first learned about the event. Aware of the fact that women are often seen as bodies instead of people, I was interested to see how HelloTittie displayed the female body– breasts in particular– and incorporated it into the showcase without taking attention away from the other aspects of the art being presented.
But the HelloTittie brand imagery -- showcased on everything from giant balloons to gift bags-- was a huge hit, serving as both a fun background and as the focus of some of the performance and art pieces. Artists and attendees alike were able to embrace an aspect of femininity that is often used to shame women: being proud of– and flaunting– their bodies. All of the artists present used this message of body empowerment to enrich their art, rewriting the narrative of what it means to be a female artist and creating work that inspired others (at least me) to do the same.
The display room held fine art in mediums such as sculpture, photography, and acrylic paint, and observers could admire the art while talking to the artists, buying raffle tickets, or enjoying the open bar. Throughout the evening, there were periodic performances of live painting, spoken word, and body flow, with a final performance from pop/R&B singer Shenna. In the midst of all this, I got a chance to interview the artists and ask them about their inspirations, hardships, and experiences with intersectional feminism.
I started by asking the artists what art meant to them. Many agreed that it is a necessary form of self-expression, some using it as an outlet for their emotions and experiences. When I asked them about their inspiration, their answers were varied, but all related back to the idea of empowerment and human connection. “I want to give people a platform,” said photographer Marisa Silva, explaining that she was inspired by people and aimed to make them feel empowered through her work. Most of her pictures did not feature professional models, a fact Silva touched upon while telling me that much of her work was focused on “squishing the male gaze” by not focusing on traditional beauty standards and showing that her models are more than just bodies to be objectified.
Other artists had similar sentiments about what inspired them to make art, recalling being inspired by other forms of human connection such as TV shows or books. But as nobody is producing creative content all of the time, I also asked them about the struggles they had faced in their artistic journeys and how they had overcome these difficulties. Many explained that they had struggled to find their own styles amidst a field of talented artists, in addition to facing artist’s block and pressure from other people. Social media, described by artist Christina Guffrida, is “a necessary evil”, good for networking but containing the danger of falling into a spiral of self-doubt. She expressed the necessity of taking a break to escape when the constant comparison to others overshadows the actual art being produced. Pamela Cooper (pictured below), one of the live painters of the evening, expressed a similar sentiment of needing to take a step back to recuperate. She described her experiences with depression and how she used painting as a coping mechanism for it, but went on hiatus in order to separate the two and be able to paint without being consumed by depression. It was interesting to see that although painting can be used as an outlet for stress and negativity, using it solely for that purpose could taint the very act of making art.
Artists also described how they channelled challenging experiences into artistic inspiration to send positive messages through their work. Ivette Urena displayed a series of acrylic paintings with messages about sexual assault and female body autonomy, her experiences as a survivor of sexual assault motivating her to create art for other survivors. She told me that at first, she was scared to make art based on her experiences because she didn’t want people to judge her for being a survivor, but realized that she needed to move past her external fears, recognizing that at least one person would be able to connect with her art and use it to heal. She has been able to heal herself through creating her art, which also focuses on different aspects of her life, like her Dominican culture and her dog. While her journey has not been an easy one, it has helped her discover more about herself.
Urena’s experiences speak to the necessity of having female-focused creative spaces. I wondered how much of that was actually available to the artists, so I asked them about their experiences with intersectional feminism within their artistic communities. Many admitted that their gender and race have given them an extra hurdle to leap over; as photographer Victoria Cruz put it, being a QWOC (a queer woman of color) is a “triple X.” But all of the women I talked to stressed the importance of pushing for your art in a competitive field no matter the obstacles stacked against you. They also noted that the art world inherently promotes collaboration and women supporting women because, as spoken word poet Maria Burgos (pictured below) told me, art like poetry is “vulnerable and wants to connect people” instead of divide them. Artists like Burgos are using their work to lift up other women, an important act of empowerment against a society that often tells women to compete with one another.
It was exciting to see the hard work of the artists come to fruition in the studio. I wondered what advice they would give to younger people unsure of how to get started in the art world, especially as the writers and readers of The Highly Indy Project are primarily teenagers. Everyone emphasized the importance of continuous practice, networking through social media and art events, and not caring what other people think you should do with your life. There were also pieces of advice for internal development, such as mentally preparing yourself and embracing who you are. But in the end, what I found to be one of the most important statements was that of simply putting yourself out there and making art. As painter Crystal King-Charles immediately said when I asked her for advice, “just keep producing content.”
The creativity that filled the room that night was certainly a testament to that.