Saturday, November 25, 2017

Woman Leaders

How do you measure greatness? What does it look like? If you’re a sports fan or a New York City Marathon runner, there’s an image of Shalane Flanagan that’s synonymous with great. It was splashed across the front page of the New York Times when she made history as the first American woman to win this race in more than 40 years.

But if you’re Maya Angelou, greatness is completely different. It’s the tenacious courage in her poetry that challenges us to be hopeful. With Angelou, we love in the face of great adversity and our flawed human condition. But in most cases, we associate greatness with awards, bestselling books, and standout actions. Only when we look beyond the marvelous feats and profound words, do we see greatness in a new light.

Greatness in Unsung Spaces

Shalane Flanagan, Maya Angelou, Great, greatness, being great, Mother Theresa, Walter Gretzky, Wayne Gretzky, Glen Gretzky, Maya Angelou, Lauri Holomis, The Great One, Wayne Gretzky Foundation, national treasure, Kevin Sylvester, Taylor, National Hockey League, #DrinkthePink, Biosteel, Dolly Parton, Imagination Library, Spruce Award, Coach Wally, entrepreneurGreatness thrives in many invisible places of the world. Whether it’s the slums of Calcutta, where Mother Teresa lived a life of quiet service to the destitute or the uncelebrated actions we do for others in a day, greatness can change everything.

This photo by Chris Barbalis shares all the colors of great when I circle back to Angelou’s famous words:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

If we take this message to heart, greatness lives inside us. It’s found in the quiet of the night, when a parent tucks her child into bed after reading a bedtime story. Or it hides behind the thoughtful son who calls his father each day to let him know he cares. So when I discovered a woman who embodied this greatness in the passion she brings to every facet of her life, I knew WomanScape needed to share her story.

Meet Lauri Holomis. She is a great friend. And, she also happens to be a modern-day wonder woman. Her list of accomplishments so early in life makes my head spin. She’s a devoted mother, loving spouse, published bestselling writer, and entrepreneur. If I wasn’t so inspired by the person she is and the positive footprint she’s making for team-humanity, I might be jealous. But the truth is Lauri is as great as the bestselling, award-nominated book she’s co-authored with Glen Gretzky.

Lauri Holomis: What It Means To Be Great

Shalane Flanagan, Maya Angelou, Great, greatness, being great, Mother Theresa, Walter Gretzky, Wayne Gretzky, Glen Gretzky, Maya Angelou, Lauri Holomis, The Great One, Wayne Gretzky Foundation, national treasure, Kevin Sylvester, Taylor, National Hockey League, #DrinkthePink, Biosteel, Dolly Parton, Imagination Library, Spruce Award, Coach Wally, entrepreneurOkay, so Lauri Holomis meets the usual standard for greatness having written a bestselling children’s book. But her passion and reason for writing the book with partner Glen Gretzky come from a higher place: a deep desire to share the spirit of Walter Gretzky.

Glen was an ideal writing partner for Lauri, as the son of Walter and brother of legendary hockey great, Wayne Gretzky. Writing Great immortalized Walter’s greatness as one of Canada’s national treasures.

The story honors Walter’s lifelong commitment to the sport and the wisdom he’s imparted to thousands of aspiring hockey players and their families. For decades, Walter has translated the greatest values of the game – friendship and team building – as an opportunity for camaraderie and positive character building.

In our competitive world and obsession with success, Walter’s philosophy and values reframe the meaning of true happiness and success in life. And who better than Walter to understand the pressure that kids and hockey parents feel in this highly competitive sport?  He’s proudly pictured in the above photo and standing on the far left, next to Lauri Holomis, illustrator Kevin Sylvester, and Glen Gretzky.

Shalane Flanagan, Maya Angelou, Great, greatness, being great, Mother Theresa, Walter Gretzky, Wayne Gretzky, Glen Gretzky, Maya Angelou, Lauri Holomis, The Great One, Wayne Gretzky Foundation, national treasure, Kevin Sylvester, Taylor, National Hockey League, #DrinkthePink, Biosteel, Dolly Parton, Imagination Library, Spruce Award, Coach Wally, entrepreneurThere are so many ways this message for kids is a timely and entertaining read. Taylor is the main character in the story whose joy at making the team quickly turns to frustration about not scoring goals.

I love the universality of Taylor’s name as both a girl’s and a boy’s name but the heart of the story speaks to a message we all need. Coach Wally helps Taylor to see that you don’t have to score goals to be great. Life is a team game and there are many ways we can all be great in life.

Taylor realizes this truth under the shadow of “The Great One”, an obvious connection to the legendary hockey hall of famer Wayne Gretzky. Wayne, who dominated the National Hockey League from 1979-1999, was called “The Great One” and is arguably the greatest ever to play the game.

Lauri’s Business Success: The Gretzky Foundation & BIOSTEEL

Since the book’s release last winter, Great has become a bestseller in Canada and is also a nominee for the Ontario Library Association’s Spruce Award. The fan base for Great even includes country star legend Dolly Parton, who wrote to Holomis about adding it to the Imagination Library collection; a global book gifting program providing free books to children.

But Lauri’s desire to share Walter’s story and help inspire kids and parents to see the deeper meaning of great goes beyond her writing hat. She has worked for the Wayne Gretzky Foundation for years, helping the nonprofit raise funds for children and families across Canada and the United States. Part of the book proceeds are also directed to this fund.

Shalane Flanagan, Maya Angelou, Great, greatness, being great, Mother Theresa, Walter Gretzky, Wayne Gretzky, Glen Gretzky, Maya Angelou, Lauri Holomis, The Great One, Wayne Gretzky Foundation, national treasure, Kevin Sylvester, Taylor, National Hockey League, #DrinkthePink, Biosteel, Dolly Parton, Imagination Library, Spruce Award, Coach Wally, entrepreneurAs well, Lauri is one of a group of business entrepreneurs helping to leverage her talents in the professional sports industry. When Lauri explains the benefits of Biosteel in the nutritional sports drink marketplace, I understand how she is also championing a new fan base for women and mothers. The all natural, sugar-free and caffeine-free products touted in the #DrinkthePink campaign provide a vitamin/mineral/amino acid blend of components that promote wellness and healthy nutrition. https://www.biosteel.com/en-ca

When you consider Lauri’s busy professional life, she’s the first to tell you her passionate role as mother, spouse, and friend stands at the top of the greatness pyramid. Lauri says family is everything and greatness is being inspired to live each day with gratitude and love. When you meet Lauri, this truth resonates in her inviting smile and generous, heartfelt laugh.

Shalane Flanagan, Maya Angelou, Great, greatness, being great, Mother Theresa, Walter Gretzky, Wayne Gretzky, Glen Gretzky, Maya Angelou, Lauri Holomis, The Great One, Wayne Gretzky Foundation, national treasure, Kevin Sylvester, Taylor, National Hockey League, #DrinkthePink, Biosteel, Dolly Parton, Imagination Library, Spruce Award, Coach Wally, entrepreneurI realize Lauri helps to coin this new standard of greatness though Coach Wally’s words at the end of the Great storybook. It’s a simple explanation meant for children, but it challenges lessons from the most interesting Ted Talks and fascinating YouTube videos.

Taylor passes the puck and the team scores a winning goal in overtime. Coach Wally congratulates Taylor saying, “You made sure he could be great, and that we could be great.” Taylor responds, telling Coach Wally “It feels so amazing. It feels great.” Remembering Angelou’s words, “People will never forget how you make them feel,” I feel awfully great when I’m around people like Lauri Holomis.

To find Lauri Holomis and Glen Gretzky’s book in stores, visit the links here at Amazon or Indigo in Canada.

 

Adrienne St. John, Chardonnay, Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, Foxen Winery, Imagine Winery, Italian varietals, Los Olivos, Napa Wine tTails, Pearl painting, Pinot Noir, President Bill Clinton, Presqu’ile Winery, Rex Pickett, Rideau Winery, Ross and Lindsay Rankin, Santa Barbara wine trail, Santa Ynez, Sideways Trails, Sonoma Wine Region, Syrah-Panty Dropper Boxer Dropper, Zaca Mesa Winery
WomanScape welcomes Contributing writer and published California photographer, Denise Benson. She is a creative storyteller who is passionate about history, new ideas, people, and cultures. For Denise, life is an artful journey and invitation to explore adventures in sailing, travel, food & wine, books, and nature. You can follow Denise’s colorful stories the last Thursday of every month.
As a California resident, Denise’s new series starts with a tribute to people who continue to battle destructive fires. This special publication, over two days, celebrates Sonoma and Napa Valley Wine Country.
Join WomanScape and Denise, by raising a glass to the spirit and industry of Californians!

Sometimes life does more than imitate art. It takes us through it.

We are given a paddle of faith and forced to navigate it’s challenging and uncharted waters. But the beauty of this art-filled life is that each of our canvases is different.

beauty of art, celebration of life, Flower Canoe, Vandana Sen, the artist's life, exotic experiences, the artist's studio, Bashful Bride on a Handheld Chariot, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, northern India, Dalai Lama, Buddhist retreat, Dhauladhar Hills, Tiger, Peel Region Artists, Whitney Gallery, Rogers Television Network, http://idigitalfab.wixsite.com/canvas2life From this, we can be inspired and bask in the knowledge that we are paddling together. That’s how I came to be mesmerized by the artistry of Vandana Sen. Her life is awash in splendorous colors and floral scents that trail behind her, like her painting of Flower Canoe.  This is my favorite and shows a man rowing a canoe full of flowers downstream.

Vandana’s art is bold and serene like the slow moving forces of water. It speaks to the multifaceted reflections mirrored in her journey through life. I think I knew Vandana was an artist even before she shared this with me. She has that old soul quality of listening quietly before offering her thoughts.

When Vandana speaks, there is also something mystical and sensitive in the whispered voice that draws me in. You can imagine how eager I was to visit Vandana’s art studio when she casually mentioned she liked to paint. I was not disappointed.

Vandana’s studio is in her home, a spacious condo that feels highly organized and steeped in story. Her paintings hang in every room like an ode to her exotic experiences. Just look at this beautiful wedding scene – it captures the subject wistfully lifting her veil to the open road. There’s a story in the exciting new chapter and the rite of passage into womanhood. The work wraps me in its rich silk fabric and emotive colors.

Many of the artists I know like to keep a work space at home. But most are a kind of organized chaos like my writing desk.

I insist it reflects the many fragments of my creative mind but it’s a lot of unfinished thoughts and ideas.

I didn’t know what to expect when I visited with Vandana. Where were the messy paint tools or an empty coffee mugs, proving life had a chaotic side? They were nowhere in sight.

beauty of art, celebration of life, Flower Canoe, Vandana Sen, the artist's life, exotic experiences, the artist's studio, Bashful Bride on a Handheld Chariot, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, northern India, Dalai Lama, Buddhist retreat, Dhauladhar Hills, Tiger, Peel Region Artists, Whitney Gallery, Rogers Television Network,

Vandana’s work space is neatly tucked away from view and her walls filled with just the right balance of art. There is a broad range of sculptured wood carvings, woven tapestries and unusual art pieces. I’m told most are curated from travels abroad and former residences. Spectacular bursts of color from her own artistry catch my attention, as they dart between the neat arrangements. Bashful Bride on a Handheld Chariot.

It’s easy to see where Vandana’s artistic inspiration and sensibilities originate. She grew up in Dharamshala; in Himachal Pradesh, northern India. The setting is surreal and tourists visit to enjoy cascading waterfalls, Buddhist retreats and the home of the Dalai Lama. In fact, India is shaped like a giant diamond. Dharamshala (sometimes spelled Dharamsala) is like a rare jewel perched close to the country’s northern border. It’s natural landscape is covered with mountain ranges nestled in the Dhauladhar Hills.

The photo of Dharamshala speaks to the rich landscape that influences Vandana’s perspective and her art. Over the years, the artistry of her life – her travels, her connection to others and the vision and style of her craft – emerges like a beautifully shaped sculpture. And we learn this process is true for each of us as we incorporate experiences and relationships that influence us. We are the sum of all of our formative experiences and what we hope to be. Because the process is never-ending, each moment we live is but one of many paintings that captures the artistry of our very being.

As I savor Vandana’s talent, I must admit there is a new excitement in her latest works. They are arrestingly bold, like the Tiger Image. The tiger showcases Vandana’s dynamic confidence in composition and an imagination as fierce as her subject. When you see the tiger painting in person, there are detailed three-dimensional layers that create an added sensory experience. The tiger literally leaps off the page and holds me, transfixed by its powerful eye and evocative style.

beauty of art, celebration of life, Flower Canoe, Vandana Sen, the artist's life, exotic experiences, the artist's studio, Bashful Bride on a Handheld Chariot, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, northern India, Dalai Lama, Buddhist retreat, Dhauladhar Hills, Tiger, Peel Region Artists, Whitney Gallery, Rogers Television Network, http://idigitalfab.wixsite.com/canvas2life

Only after I press Vandana does she humbly admit her work has been featured in several venues  and exhibitions. She was the featured artist in a Peel region show (a suburb of Metropolitan Toronto) and her work was also highlighted at the Whitney Gallery. As one of Canada’s upcoming artists, Vandana has also been interviewed on Toronto’s Rogers Television Network.

I love the complex intensity of Vandana’s varied styles. Her work is best described as an eclectic blend that has been called a bold tale of expressive imagination. Vandana uses a vivid palette of colors that blind me with one very singular thought when I look at her work. For me, Vandana’s artistry is the joyful celebration of life. It’s immersive quality helps me to appreciate our individual journeys and the power of our shared experiences.  I hope you will explore more of Vandana’s art or reach out to her at  http://idigitalfab.wixsite.com/canvas2life.

Frida Kahlo, surrealist painter, Blue House, Azul Casa , Sistene Chapel, Blue Mosque, WomanScape, Blue Sky Thinking, Coyocoán, Mexico, in Mexican Women - A Legacy of Freedom Fighters, Diego Rivera, Marina Abramovic, The Two Fridas, healing art, Sister Golden, www.sistergolden.com, Piero Matteo d’Amelia

Lately I’ve been thinking about the roof over my head. I feel safe underneath it.

Frida Kahlo, surrealist painter, Blue House, Azul Casa , Sistene Chapel, Blue Mosque, WomanScape, Blue Sky Thinking, Coyocoán, Mexico, in Mexican Women - A Legacy of Freedom Fighters, Diego Rivera, Marina Abramovic, The Two Fridas, healing art, Sister Golden, www.sistergolden.com, Piero Matteo d’AmeliaI can enjoy a cup of tea, gather for family celebrations and experience the joys of living. But I am ashamed when I realize how often I take these things for granted. There’s so much suffering and conflict in the world.

But I’ve also come to realize a strange truth – when sadness happens under any roof it’s an invitation to grow. Most of us would choose to ignore it and stay in our personal comfort zones, if we could. 

But when tragedy and sadness make room for inspiration and hope, the world heals. Just look at some of the most magnificent roofs on the planet – the Sistine Chapel and the beautiful blue ceiling of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. They didn’t just happen.

These great works of art were born from ideas that harnessed a collective body of beliefs about God. They inspire awe and lift us with anticipation and hope. Their emotional impact is undeniable. And we don’t need to travel to Italy or Turkey to find amazing stories that live right under our own roof. They live with us and in countless stories about historical women and art.

This is especially true when we look at the legendary Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. WomanScape celebrates her passion for building a life inside and outside of the walls of her azul casa – the Blue House. The photo above shows Frida leaning against it.

Frida Kahlo Building Blue Skies

Frida embodied “blue sky thinking” long before business consultants coined the phrase. She chose to think outside of the box and did this by wrestling with the painful events in her life. She fashioned her own wings with a feminist strength and uncommon tenacity, compared to many of the women living during Friday’s time (1907-1954. Her secret? Frida faced adversity head on – unabashedly – and on her own terms.

Frida Kahlo, surrealist painter, Blue House, Azul Casa , Sistene Chapel, Blue Mosque, WomanScape, Blue Sky Thinking, Coyocoán, Mexico, in Mexican Women - A Legacy of Freedom Fighters, Diego Rivera, Marina Abramovic, The Two Fridas, healing art, Sister Golden, www.sistergolden.com, Piero Matteo d’AmeliaHer journey started six years after she was born in Coyocoán, Mexico when Frida contracted polio. Bedridden for nine months, she learned to walk again but with a crippled right leg. This photo of her leg brace illustrates how crudely constructed and painful it must have been for Frida.

Just when things were improving and Frida turned eighteen, she suffered another setback. The bus she was traveling on collided with a train and she was seriously injured. During the ordeal, a steel handrail impaled her spine and hip. Miraculously, she survived and learned to walk again, but the pain would  haunt her relentlessly.

The events that shaped Frida’s history were frequent subjects in her artwork. The overturned bus and the crude corset strapped to her back were important influences in her identity. She needed the brace for relief and support, but their place in her artwork also helped her endure long episodes of bedridden suffering.

Frida Kahlo, surrealist painter, Blue House, Azul Casa , Sistene Chapel, Blue Mosque, WomanScape, Blue Sky Thinking, Coyocoán, Mexico, in Mexican Women - A Legacy of Freedom Fighters, Diego Rivera, Marina Abramovic, The Two Fridas, healing art, Sister Golden, www.sistergolden.com, Piero Matteo d’Amelia
Frida Kahlo, surrealist painter, Blue House, Azul Casa , Sistene Chapel, Blue Mosque, WomanScape, Blue Sky Thinking, Coyocoán, Mexico, in Mexican Women - A Legacy of Freedom Fighters, Diego Rivera, Marina Abramovic, The Two Fridas, healing art, Sister Golden, www.sistergolden.com, Piero Matteo d’Amelia

This isn’t the first time WomanScape has touched on Frida’s life. She is mentioned as a powerful role model in  Mexican Women – A Legacy of Freedom Fighters. Her strength shines because most people struggle to see opportunity in the depths of despair. Try telling a mother who has lost her child or the family whose son has become a gunshot victim that there’s an opportunity for goodness. Without digging deeper and searching for meaning, many of us become are victimized by our isolation and grief.

But many a wise man and woman in history have thankfully reminded us that we are not alone. Frida married and lived a full life, enjoying a solo exhibition in Paris before her death at just 47 years of age. Her husband, famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera, influenced her work greatly even though their styles remained completely different. Frida’s tumultuous marriage  was filled with more disappointment when she suffered two miscarriages, but she used it in her work to bring attention to cultural and gender issues revolving around expectations and discrimination.

Frida’s Work & Life Remain Popular Subjects of Interest

This, in part, explains why Frida’s popularity has grown. She used her tormented body as a canvas for her work well before contemporary artists like Russian Marina Abramovic. Frida made more than 55 self-portraits, frequently examining the duality of her identity and painful view of herself. She grappled with perceived conflicts over her European style versus her Mexican heritage. But her willingness to tackle gender issues of repression and liberation seem even more heroic in our modern world.

Frida Kahlo, surrealist painter, Blue House, Azul Casa , Sistene Chapel, Blue Mosque, WomanScape, Blue Sky Thinking, Coyocoán, Mexico, in Mexican Women - A Legacy of Freedom Fighters, Diego Rivera, Marina Abramovic, The Two Fridas, healing art, Sister Golden, www.sistergolden.com, Piero Matteo d’AmeliaNowhere is this more apparent than her 1939 portrait The Two Fridas. The painting exposes her ripped heart and the unloved side of her existence. And yet, throughout her life, Frida’s art was a constant source of healing and contentment. Many of her paintings like this one work through the trauma of losing her healthy body. Of the 143 paintings she produced, Frida is overwhelmingly the central subject and there is almost a reverence or glorification of her pain.

Frida’s legacy continues to be relevant for a myriad of reasons. Women identify with her humanity, her bodily impediments and her efforts to champion cultural and gender rights. An artist friend of mine who designs and curates spectacular home products in her business Sister Golden creates amazing images of Frida. They regularly sell out, like this “Independence Frida” art piece.  It makes me smile – seeing Frida’s happy face and the colorful florals she would have loved. (For more photos and works of art like these, visit www.sistergolden.com)

Frida Kahlo, surrealist painter, Blue House, Azul Casa , Sistene Chapel, Blue Mosque, WomanScape, Blue Sky Thinking, Coyocoán, Mexico, in Mexican Women - A Legacy of Freedom Fighters, Diego Rivera, Marina Abramovic, The Two Fridas, healing art, Sister Golden, www.sistergolden.com, Piero Matteo d’AmeliaI realize blue skies aren’t guaranteed in life. But we need to dream and embrace the role they play in our shared humanity.

Let’s paint our rooftop with the same passion as Michelangelo brought to the Sistine Chapel. Before his brush strokes, the ceiling was a simple blue color with a few gold stars   I hope that when tragedy strikes, we gather under one roof to find solace and the strength to live better.

Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, motherhood, gender roles, gender equity, maternity benefits, Canadian Maternity Benefits, U.S. Maternity Benefits, maternity leave, competitive advantages, global economic growth, stalled women in the workforce, Who Decided Pregnancy Was a Disability, Bloomberg Report on Motherhood, Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, Global Comparison of Parental Leave, Mary Cassatt, UN Report: Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Economic Empowerment, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, Ms. Christine Legarde, the International Monetary Fund, Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Mr. Michael Spence, 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, motherhood, gender roles, gender equity, maternity benefits, Canadian Maternity Benefits, U.S. Maternity Benefits, maternity leave, competitive advantages, global economic growth, stalled women in the workforce, Who Decided Pregnancy Was a Disability, Bloomberg Report on Motherhood, Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, Global Comparison of Parental Leave, Mary Cassatt, UN Report: Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Economic Empowerment, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, Ms. Christine Legarde, the International Monetary Fund, Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Mr. Michael Spence, 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic SciencesI don’t think Austrian artist Gustav Klimt was thinking about the economy when he painted this serene picture of a mother and child.

He was capturing the beauty of motherhood and familial relationships. But do mothers have time to nurture this special relationship? Financial pressures and gender roles create attitudes and social behaviors that influence our family values. So when motherhood becomes a financial burden or a woman’s gender prevents her from contributing equally in the workforce, she is shortchanged. However, the problem is much larger. Wasted skills, lost intellectual capital and reduced participation in the workforce affect a country’s bottom line. Gender equality makes economic sense and championing family values creates global competitive advantages.

Snapshot of Canadian versus American Maternity Values

It’s no secret the United States continues seriously struggles with gender equality. We are in crisis mode and it shows in the workforce. Workplace demands are discriminatory because women struggle without systemic support systems vital for raising a healthy family.  For example, long-term studies prove that investing in women and maternity leave lowers infant mortality. It is an investment in a country’s economics. Women are more likely to breastfeed and the health benefits of this include a reduced risk of infectious diseases and better cognitive outcomes for the child.

Women who are given time to nurture their children and recover from childbirth establish a stronger relationship with their baby. Men play an equally important role in nurturing children and the family. They offer additional support and should also have the time to bond with the baby. Employers and governments need to provide networks that lay a strong foundation for future generation of workers. The economics are irrefutable: maternity and paternity leaves are a short-term investment that pays long term dividends.

But look at what’s happened in America. Women are waiting longer to have children because having a baby is a pay cut with further potential downside risks. Short maternity leaves mean higher childcare costs for families. Inflexible work environments force women to sacrifice job promotions, salary increases and a lost career track. An entire segment of a country’s qualified workforce – women – is grossly impacted and competitive advantages are lost.

http://www.npr.org/2016/10/06/495839588/countries-around-the-world-beat-the-u-s-on-paid-parental-leaveA 2017 Bloomberg Report shows the impact of a flat labor force in America. Progress has stalled over the last four decades since the late 80’s. On average, women in their twenties are waiting four more years longer to have children (up from 22 years to 26 years). Overall workforce participation starts to drop when women are in their 30’s and 40’s. It increases when they try to return in their 50’s and 60’s. I can’t tell you how many women I know that fall into this middle gap. They have experience and intellectual capital but their job prospects are pretty sparse. There is no precedent for the increased number of women forgoing their golden years and working into their 60’s and 70’s.

The chart below comparing American maternity benefits to Canadian benefits leaves a sour taste. Can you blame women for opting out? As mentioned in Who Decided Pregnancy Was a Disability?, the United States maternity leave is one of the lowest in the world, ranking alongside New Guinea and some of the South Pacific Islands. At the bottom of more than 193 other countries around the world, America’s family values are shockingly low. It also calls into question its status as a so-called “developed country.”

http://www.npr.org/2016/10/06/495839588/countries-around-the-world-beat-the-u-s-on-paid-parental-leave

Maternity Leave: Best and Worst Countries

This is the perfect time to introduce Malcolm Gladwell and his book Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell examines the performance of people in various sports, academia, and business fields, identifying why they are successful. Time and again, the greatest common indicators are culture and environment. It’s not a stretch to see that these same success factors also apply to how countries perform when it comes to championing women.

While you can’t actually see the culture of countries in the chart below, the environmental support for motherhood is apparent. And, don’t go jumping up and down! There is NO national legislation that protects maternity leave in the United States. The chart is a best case scenario for companies that choose to provide maternity leave. While more companies are seeing it as a competitive advantage in the marketplace, smaller companies with less than 75 employees don’t need to offer anything. This is significant point because small business is the backbone of America with just under half of the U.S. gross domestic product coming from this segment.

http://www.npr.org/2016/10/06/495839588/countries-around-the-world-beat-the-u-s-on-paid-parental-leaveHere is what you can’t see in the chart that’s worth sharing. Sweden provides 16-month parental leaves that can be shared between two parents! Australia provides 33 weeks for each parent, and then another 33 weeks to be split by them in whatever way they choose. I also noticed the most competitive countries have paid paternity leave for dads. Too many countries don’t include dads in the economics of the family. Why couldn’t this picture by American painter Mary Cassatt show a father hugging a daughter? This helps to explain why European women are more likely to work, particularly in countries like the U.K. and France because paternity leave is supported.

How to Get to Economic Growth

Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, motherhood, gender roles, gender equity, maternity benefits, Canadian Maternity Benefits, U.S. Maternity Benefits, maternity leave, competitive advantages, global economic growth, stalled women in the workforce, Who Decided Pregnancy Was a Disability, Bloomberg Report on Motherhood, Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, Global Comparison of Parental Leave, Mary Cassatt, UN Report: Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Economic Empowerment, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, Ms. Christine Legarde, the International Monetary Fund, Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Mr. Michael Spence, 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

So where do we go from here? A United Nations Report, Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Economic Empowerment, found that countries who remove discriminatory laws and accelerate women’s economic empowerment realize greater sustained economic growth. There are dozens of charts and reports that correlate gender equality to faster economic growth, higher income per capita and improved human development. These gains are even greater in countries like Germany, Korea, Italy and Singapore where women’s participation rates are low. In more developed countries like England, New Zealand and Latin American countries, improved maternity leaves helped create better income distribution while reducing poverty rates.

In the UN Report, more than 943 gender-differentiated laws documented in over 170 economies help to identify opportunities for economic improvements and competitiveness. Two thoughts on this: that’s a lot of gender bias embedded in our culture and environment, and why aren’t we listening to all this great advice! Call me crazy but there’s some serious high level thinking that went into the UN Report.

Some of the authors include people like Mr. Jim Yong Kim (President of the World Bank), Ms. Christine Legarde (Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund), Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women) and Mr. Michael Spence (Economist and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences).

Without watering the report down too much, the UN Report says countries must do these things to increase their competitive advantage:

  • Economies need to harness women in the workforce to grow (i.e. U.S. could grow the economy by 5% if they did this according to Bloomberg’s Report);
  • Women need to have babies to sustain workforce’s and grow economies;
  • Women need to be healthy enough to remain in the workforce and given time to emotionally bond and physically heal from childbirth;
  • Women need support systems to return to work and to be productive.  This means childcare, positive role models to change existing discriminatory norms and guaranteed legal protections;
  • Countries need to recognize and reduce unpaid work in the home by encouraging and valuing paternity leaves; and…
  • Women need a collective stronger voice that will ensure their visibility and representation in the government policy making and improved public sector practices.

Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, motherhood, gender roles, gender equity, maternity benefits, Canadian Maternity Benefits, U.S. Maternity Benefits, maternity leave, competitive advantages, global economic growth, stalled women in the workforce, Who Decided Pregnancy Was a Disability, Bloomberg Report on Motherhood, Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, Global Comparison of Parental Leave, Mary Cassatt, UN Report: Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Economic Empowerment, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, Ms. Christine Legarde, the International Monetary Fund, Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Mr. Michael Spence, 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic SciencesThe big question now is what businesses and countries will do with this knowledge.

I wonder if we need a fresh approach. Maybe we should be fighting for paternity leave and soliciting the assistance of men. This would create greater overall support for parental leave and securing equal rights. If we focus instead on parental leave – like many advances countries already do – we’ll bring a refreshingly twenty-first century way to approach gender equality!

At any rate, we need to build a more unified case for gender equality and those qualities that help mothers to bond with their children. When we champion the economics of motherhood the art of the family flourishes, alongside our shared humanity.

California Mission Trail, Mission Trail, Father Juipero Serra, Spanish Franciscan, Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions, The Island of the Blue Dolphin, Channel Islands, Spanish Rule, Indian tribes, Chumash tribe, Tongva tribe, Mexican settlers, Captain George Nidever, Juana Maria, Scott O’Dell, California elementary school reading list, Santa Catalina, Avalon, Legend​ ​of​ ​Juana​ ​Maria, San Nicholas Island, San Pedro, Fr. Gonzalez Rubio, Karana

The California Mission Trail is a beloved part of California’s history.  As a native Californian that has recently returned to my home state, I have been visiting the 21 missions that comprise the Mission Trail.

The trail has its beginnings in 1769 thanks to Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan.  On a recent trip to Santa Barbara, I visited Mission Santa Barbara, often called the “Queen of the Missions”, because of “its graceful beauty.”

California Mission Trail, Mission Trail, Father Juipero Serra, Spanish Franciscan, Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions, The Island of the Blue Dolphin, Channel Islands, Spanish Rule, Indian tribes, Chumash tribe, Tongva tribe, Mexican settlers, Captain George Nidever, Juana Maria, Scott O’Dell, California elementary school reading list, Santa Catalina, Avalon, Legend​ ​of​ ​Juana​ ​Maria, San Nicholas Island, San Pedro, Fr. Gonzalez Rubio, Karana

The mission, while under Spanish rule, was named after the Spanish, Saint Barbara, since it was established on the feast day of this beloved saint.  This was the tenth mission along the trail and is the first one to be built after the death of Fr. Junipero Serra.  It stands on a hill overlooking the charming and historic old town of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean beyond. It even has views of some of the Channel Islands on a clear day.  The mission is a wonderful example of the early California Spanish architecture that has become ubiquitous to the state.  Lovely arches, red tile roofs, and beautiful gardens, add to the impressive museum collection of artifacts and history.

The History of the Mission

California Mission Trail, Mission Trail, Father Juipero Serra, Spanish Franciscan, Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions, The Island of the Blue Dolphin, Channel Islands, Spanish Rule, Indian tribes, Chumash tribe, Tongva tribe, Mexican settlers, Captain George Nidever, Juana Maria, Scott O’Dell, California elementary school reading list, Santa Catalina, Avalon, Legend​ ​of​ ​Juana​ ​Maria, San Nicholas Island, San Pedro, Fr. Gonzalez Rubio, Karana

An important part of the history of both the mission and city of Santa Barbara was the inclusion of local Indian tribes, the Chumash and Tongva. These, along with the subsequent Spanish, and later Mexican settlers, comprise the makeup of the unique culture and history of California.

California Mission Trail, Mission Trail, Father Juipero Serra, Spanish Franciscan, Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions, The Island of the Blue Dolphin, Channel Islands, Spanish Rule, Indian tribes, Chumash tribe, Tongva tribe, Mexican settlers, Captain George Nidever, Juana Maria, Scott O’Dell, California elementary school reading list, Santa Catalina, Avalon, Legend​ ​of​ ​Juana​ ​Maria, San Nicholas Island, San Pedro, Fr. Gonzalez Rubio, KaranaWandering through the church cemetery, I discovered a plaque commemorating Juana Maria. She was a woman who was abandoned on San Nicholas island for eighteen years and then brought to Santa Barbara in 1853 by Captain George Nidever.  This woman was portrayed in the beloved historical fiction novel Island of the Blue Dolphins written in 1960 by Scott O’Dell.  It was required reading when I attended elementary school in the 1970’s. I was inspired to re-read it after my visit to the mission cemetery.

Island of the Blue Dolphins was author Scott O’Dell’s first novel and it remains his most popular today.  His books for young readers focus mainly on young women who find themselves struggling for survival and depending upon their determination and self-reliance.California Mission Trail, Mission Trail, Father Juipero Serra, Spanish Franciscan, Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions, The Island of the Blue Dolphin, Channel Islands, Spanish Rule, Indian tribes, Chumash tribe, Tongva tribe, Mexican settlers, Captain George Nidever, Juana Maria, Scott O’Dell, California elementary school reading list, Santa Catalina, Avalon, Legend​ ​of​ ​Juana​ ​Maria, San Nicholas Island, San Pedro, Fr. Gonzalez Rubio, Karana Island of the Blue Dolphins remains required reading in California elementary schools today.

The Channel Islands are a chain of eight islands, along the Santa Barbara Channel.  Situated off the coast of Southern California, they provide the earliest evidence of human seafaring activity in the Americas, as well as the earliest paleontological proof of human habitation in North America.

Aleuts from the Alaskan region hunted in these islands and had many clashes with the native Chumash and Tongva tribes. These trade disputes resulted in many deaths.  During the 19th century, the Chumash and Tongva tribes were removed from the islands and brought to the missions.

Today five of the islands comprise a national park established in 1980 and two are under the control of the U.S. Navy.  The eighth island, Santa Catalina, with the established town of Avalon, is the only inhabited island in the group.

The Legend of Juana Maria

California Mission Trail, Mission Trail, Father Juipero Serra, Spanish Franciscan, Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions, The Island of the Blue Dolphin, Channel Islands, Spanish Rule, Indian tribes, Chumash tribe, Tongva tribe, Mexican settlers, Captain George Nidever, Juana Maria, Scott O’Dell, California elementary school reading list, Santa Catalina, Avalon, Legend​ ​of​ ​Juana​ ​Maria, San Nicholas Island, San Pedro, Fr. Gonzalez Rubio, KaranaThe legend of Juana Maria has several iterations, but basic facts about her story were recorded in 1853.  A ship engaged in hunting (primarily otter and seals, along the California coastline and Channel Islandsanchored at San Nicholas Island to bring the few remaining Indians to the mainland.

When the sailors gathered the Indians on the beach, Juana Maria asked to return to the village for her child who had been left behind.  She was granted permission and ran to fetch her child.  While she was gone, the winds increased and the men sailed off without her rather than risk the safety of the schooner.  Intending to return for her, the schooner continued onward towards San Pedro. But instead, it soon capsized and drifted out to sea.  The men were saved and so the story of the lone woman left behind on the island began to spread.  As the years passed, it was assumed, that she had likely perished.

Occasionally, fishermen hunting off the island would report seeing a figure moving about on the island’s cliffs.  Even so, seventeen years passed before anything was done to confirm these sporadic reports.  The island is roughly 75 miles from Santa Barbara, so its remote location likely made the situation easier to ignore.  In 1852, Captain George Nidever and his men sailed to the island to hunt for seagull eggs and discovered a woman’s footprints on the island.  They also found that some shelters on the island had been recently visited.  Upon hearing of their discovery, Fr. Gonzalez Rubio of Mission Santa Barbara asked Captain Nidever to revisit the island and make a thorough search for the woman.

In the Spring of 1853, Nidever returned to the island to find the missing woman.  Upon arriving, more footprints were discovered.  The next day, Nidever observed a small, dark object moving in the distance.  His men soon found Juana Maria.  She was not frightened and spoke gibberish to herself.  The mission Indians did not understand her language, but she communicated with motions and gestures to make herself understood.

She had set her camp in a place where she could view most of the island and be close to fresh springs and where seals could be hunted.  She appeared to be in her fifties, strong, and fit.  She came aboard the schooner willingly and seemed happy for the company and new food.  The men hunted on the island for a month and she helped with food preparation and water gathering during that time.

California Mission Trail, Mission Trail, Father Juipero Serra, Spanish Franciscan, Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions, The Island of the Blue Dolphin, Channel Islands, Spanish Rule, Indian tribes, Chumash tribe, Tongva tribe, Mexican settlers, Captain George Nidever, Juana Maria, Scott O’Dell, California elementary school reading list, Santa Catalina, Avalon, Legend​ ​of​ ​Juana​ ​Maria, San Nicholas Island, San Pedro, Fr. Gonzalez Rubio, KaranaOnce the ship returned to Santa Barbara, Captain Nidever took Juana Maria to his home.  The mission fathers came immediately to assist, and hoped the  Indians from the missions north and south could understand her.  Sadly, none of them understood her language.  Efforts to find a tribe that spoke her language failed, and what happened to her remaining tribe remained a mystery.

Juana Maria did not let her inability to communicate  break her spirit.  It was reported that she often sang and danced for her hosts and loved interacting with children.  Sadly, reports also suggested her child was  killed by wild dogs on the island.  Seven weeks from the day she arrived in Santa Barbara, Juana Maria became ill.  A mission father, conditionally baptized her and she passed away from dysentery.  Juana Maria was buried in the mission cemetery on October 19, 1853. A tall tree pictured above seems to reach with outstretched arms, welcoming visitors into the mission.

California Mission Trail, Mission Trail, Father Juipero Serra, Spanish Franciscan, Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions, The Island of the Blue Dolphin, Channel Islands, Spanish Rule, Indian tribes, Chumash tribe, Tongva tribe, Mexican settlers, Captain George Nidever, Juana Maria, Scott O’Dell, California elementary school reading list, Santa Catalina, Avalon, Legend​ ​of​ ​Juana​ ​Maria, San Nicholas Island, San Pedro, Fr. Gonzalez Rubio, KaranaThis news was widely reported in California, where  her legend has continued to be an important part of Santa Barbara and the mission’s history.  Pictured left is the doorway to the mission’s cemetery.

I loved reading The Island of the Blue Dolphins as a child, often thinking it would be fun to live on my own island, like Karana, the main character in O’Dell’s book.  Now, older and wiser, I realize Juana Maria’s strength and determination.  Her life was one of great difficulty. Juana Maria was left behind and separated from her people, and forced to struggle to survive for eighteen years after losing her child, I admire her inner strength and ingenuity, which certainly provided her with the tools she needed, and a great deal of patience and faith to carry on.  It is a fitting tribute that she is interred at this beautiful mission. Her story may never be fully revealed, yet is at peace with her surroundings.

Photos and article by Denise Benson,

Contributing Writer

My conversation with Angelina Jolie last Saturday, September 9th at Toronto’s acclaimed International Film Festival (TIFF) was personal. Even though I had come to hear her speak in CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Glenn Gould Studio with 200 people as part of TIFF’s annual In Conversation Series, Angelina said something that won my heart. Clearly passionate about her new role in film and what she intended to do, Angelina said:

I love diversity and believe our world is stronger for it. We have so much to share with each other and it’s the greatest way to deeply learn and create together.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,This message is the essence of WomanScape – building cultural connections for learning and growing together! I sat riveted. And, over the course of this hour-long interview with TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey, I escaped into Angelina’s world. Bailey’s job was formidable. He avoided the impossible task of listing the more than 48 movies Angelina has appeared in. Instead, he highlighted her most prominent accomplishments as an actor, director and humanitarian.

Angelina’s Acting Career

Dressed in a simple loose fitting white shirt and a long matching skirt that floated around her feet, Angelina was ethereal. She sat very still when the movie screen behind her flashed film clips that accompanied Bailey’s references to her mounting film credits. Not once did Angelina turn around during excerpts like this one below with Whoopi Goldberg. This was not the wild-child actress of years ago, or some Brangelina figure.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

No, Angelina’s composure and graceful movements matched her deliberately thoughtful and insightful answers. I confess, like most people, that I was curious to know who Angelina really was, in lieu of the fanfare surrounding her celebrity status in Hollywood. For years, we’ve seen photos of her beauty and tabloid-fodder stories that rip apart her past marriages to fellow actors Johnny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton and, until recently, Brad Pitt.

In many ways, I think this history has eclipsed her acting artistry and philanthropy. It is a far cry from the UN Ambassador and decorated global activist who started humbly as a young theater student-in-training with Lee Strasberg in New York. Angelina’s stardom happened quickly, after movies like the 1998 film Gia (about a model hooked on cocaine) garnered attention.  It showcased her depth of emotion, opening the door to more opportunities like the action hero figure she played in 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This led to a massive fan base and broad audience appeal, while opening the door to more serious dramatic roles and award, like her severe paranoia character in Girl Interrupted.

Dramatic scripts and meatier roles in movies like the Changeling and A Mighty Heart took her to new heights. In her personal life, Angelina adopted children from several international countries while also giving birth to children of her own. This likely influenced Angelina as she stepped into the world of Disney’s adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. The wide-eyed face and radiant smile that I saw on stage at TIFF was an equally captivating and scary sorceress in Maleficent (shown below). Angelina had become a very self-aware and seasoned professional.

Angelina as Director

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,So why the director chair? Angelina is the first to admit she never planned to move behind the camera when she started out in film. As the daughter of two film actors, Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina felt destined to act. Her mother just assumed she would go into the family business. However, this changed when Angelina lost her mother to ovarian cancer at just 56 years of age in 2007.

This prompted new ideas and the kind of creative work we see in Angelina’s two films at TIFF. Both films directed by Angelina explore women from other countries. In the cover photo of this article, we see a clip from the BreadWinner. It is an animated feature about a young girl in Afghanistan who disguises herself as a boy to help her mother and sister. The other movie, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, is a Netflix film about a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975. (Photo clip below is taken from the movie.)

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

Angelina says several factors explain her desire to be behind the camera.  She slipped into directing her first film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, when she wanted to learn more about the war in Bosnia and the history of Yugoslavia. A self-proclaimed history buff, Angelina says she’s always been very aware of the macro picture in filming – crews working together, the direction of the cameras, stylized costume and language, etc. Watching actors use their words and seeing the trans-formative power of scripts created a keen interest in writing. Bringing all of these worlds together just seemed like the next thing to do.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,What’s clear when you look at Angelina’s entire body of work, is the progressive maturing of her point of view. In her humanitarian work, she hopes to leave the world in a better way. She feels the weightiness of being a role model for other women and girls, and wants the dignity of all people to matter. Her focus on cultural history and stories from around the world illustrates where Angelina is headed.

For Angelina, art can help people find peace and resolution. She is one of a new breed of female directors powering their way to the top of the box offices. TIFF announced that it would make a five-year commitment to increasing opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera. Angelina is one of those women who believes her films can help humanity to learn to grieve, to heal and to be empowered. Unbroken is produced in 2014, and examines the true story of World War II hero, Louis Zamperini. Louis fights to survive the horrors of Japanese war camps.

At the conclusion of Angelina’s interview, she did something I never would have expected.  She stayed behind for more than 20 minutes signing autographs and taking selfie photos. Talk about truly moving behind the camera! It’s clear that Angelina wants to communicate with young people around the world.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

A young mother bathes her children in it every night. Lydia Delgado, my favorite watercolor artist, uses it to create layers of colorful florals with masterful brushstrokes.

When it falls onto the tongue of a young boy’s open mouth, he smiles joyfully as it melts. But when untamed, it frightens a mother who watches it rise with the fear she feels for her family’s safety. This is the power of water. In its many forms, it sustains us and threatens us, but we are lost without it. Artists from around the world remind us of water’s life-giving qualities and the divine role of women in relation to it.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, ChicagoWater has always been a symbol of life and strength. In Ghanaian culture, women are purveyors of water. They travel miles to bring water to their homes, carrying heavy jars of it on their heads. On the west coast of Africa in northern Ghana, most homes do not have running water. Women go to boreholes (like these women walking to wells) or lakes so they have enough water to drink and use for household chores like cooking and bathing.

But during the dry season, water from most lakes has disappeared and any that does exist is contaminated. Because it is so desperately needed, women spend a large part of their day, time and energy retrieving it.

Lately, shortages are also an issue for India, a country experiencing its worst water crisis in 40 years. The riverbeds in the south have run dry for many of reasons, including over-exploited groundwater to unplanned urbanization. But an organization called the Art of Living Water Projects is working to help empower women by providing better knowledge and ways to help them.

Community training sessions and other related program initiatives in India teach women how to partner with governments to build canals and rejuvenate riverbeds. The focus is on strengthening youth and women leadership in India so women can take charge of their circumstances and prevent younger girls from missing school to fetch water.  For more information or to consider donating, please visit their website.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

Helping women rise above threatening waters is literally the work of one artist, Sean Yoro aka Hula. I saw his work a few years ago in StreetArtNews.net. This online publication by Rom Levy promotes underground artists. His series, Women Rise Up From the Water, was created to draw attention to social problems like ugly abandoned buildings in Hawaii and the melting polar caps (see the cover photo).  

Sean is a NYC-based artist who grabbed his surfboard and acrylic paints to produce stunning paintings of women. He understands the powerful significance of using women as the central theme in his graphics. They are the givers of life, as mothers and providers of family. So when Sean’s women sink into the melted ice caps or disappear from the old building lots, he shows the resulting imbalance. Scientists suggest the violent cycle of earth’s storms will likely increase.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

Sean’s female-centered posters have a sense of urgency about rising sea levels, climate change and beautification. But using images of women in art is nothing new. Mother Earth Laid Bare, a 1936 painting by Alexander Hogue, uses barren plots of land in the shape of a woman to show the suffering of Mother Nature. The photo – on display in the Art Institute of Chicago a few years back – sits next to other works by realist painters like Edward Hopper, and shows how defenseless we are against drought, winds and eroding soil.

The severity of mother nature’s power is certainly underscored by the recent events of Hurricane Harvey in the United States. Hurricanes wreak havoc as millions of people in Houston and other parts of Texas recently experienced. Harvey has forced tens of thousands of people into emergency shelters, hoping they’ll be able to salvage some of their belongings as emergency personnel and government workers prepare for years of cleanup and economic recovery.

Destructive storms like Harvey will always loom over us, like the Bhola cyclone that struck East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and India’s West Bengal region on November 12th, 1970.   More than half a million people lost their lives in what was one of the deadliest natural disasters of all time. People are helpless in the face of powerful storm or even tides of water like those in the Bay of Fundy.

The tides are the highest in the world, reaching up to a five story building, and the reversing tide section of Fundy Bay (see the photo below) claimed the lives of 19 people in a mass 1837 tragedy when 25 members of several families went berry picking. I saw the powerful evidence of eroding soil and rock along the cliffs of the bay, where tourists can walk among sea caves during low tide, before the high waters come in and flood the entire area. It is a solemn reminder of water’s power.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

Over the years, we have learned to harness the power of water for a huge variety of needs from hydro-electricity to stately fountains and water parks.Whether water is used by Indians who bathe in the Ganges or Arabs in the Middle East who depend on the desalination of water for its vital life properties, water is to be cherished and revered. The earth is roughly two-thirds water but “by 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and 2/3 of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions.”

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

As we celebrate Labor Day in North America over the September holiday weekend, I am reminded of the many women and men who have labored to service our communities, and emergency personnel who have dedicated their lives to helping those threatened by water.

This labor of love is also reflected in the artists of our time, who inspire us to higher standards and loftier goals for ourselves and each other. Artists like Arica Hilton remind us that nature is a gift and water is a powerful friend. In her one of her latest series, Multiverse, Arica prompts us to consider water conservation within the larger context of sustainable living. Her use of recycled and crushed plastic water bottles within the rich canvases of color, texture and design, help us to see and embrace water’s ubiquitous and free-flowing form.

Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago
Lydia Delgado, artists, Ghana, West Africa, Art of Living Water Projects, India, Rom Levy, Sean Yoro, Hula, power of water, women and water, Hurricane Harvey, Teas, Labor Day, U.S., 1937 Fundy Bay tragedy, Bay of Fundy, Sea Caves, hydro-electricity, Arica Hilton, Multiverse, the artist who lights up the sky, Hilton Asmus, Artsy.net, Chicago

I encourage readers to learn more about Arica by visiting WomanScape’s The Artist Who Lights Up the Sky, or to enjoy her work online at Hilton Asmus or at Artsy.net. Arica is a visionary living and working in the heart of Chicago’s art district and part of her philosophy for life, written below, inspires us to be our best selves.

I believe in free will, that we can choose our path the way we want to design it.

I believe in the power of vision, perhaps that’s why I am an artist.

Milky Way. Silhouette of a standing woman practicing yoga on the mountain near the pond with sky reflection in water. Landscape with meditating girl on the hill. Night starry sky and milky way

It’s no secret that tens of thousands of books have been written about happiness.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeThe number of self-help gurus and Oprah-style lessons on meditation and paths to enlightenment are exhaustive. Like most people, I live merrily until there is some unrest or tragedy: a marriage ends, someone dies, a cancer diagnosis, or a life-altering events reminds us of our mortality.

Enter the history of the world and Marian Broderick’s Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History. The wealth of lessons from remarkable lives lived is an attractive proposition. I stumbled upon this gem of a book in Dublin’s oldest and arguably most radical bookstore near Trinity Square, Connolly’s .

The proposition of learning from wild women who broke the rules in unapologetic and pioneering ways is promising. Like Broderick, I “limp with an Irish background” with my muddied ancestral roots. But within the covers of this seventy-plus list of short biographies, I am moved by the story of Maura “Soshin” O’Halloran. She was a young woman who moved to Japan and achieved a Zen state of enlightenment at the ripe old age of only twenty-six.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeBut serious questions came to mind: how does an Irish Catholic move to Japan and master enlightenment in one year and, better yet, why? Broderick takes us through a brief history of Maura’s roots: born in Boston to the O’Hallorans, moved with the family to Dublin where Maura is educated in Loretto convent schools, academic scholarship to Trinity College and graduates college with a degree in mathematical statistics and sociology. (The photo above is taken in a special meeting of two rivers, north of Dublin in County Wicklow. St. Patrick said that a dream had brought him to this sacred place.)

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeThis seems an unlikely path to Buddha, but Maura’s desire to help others and a love of travel take her to volunteer posts in parts of the United States, Canada and Peru after graduation. Naturally a spiritual person, Maura decides to travel to the Toshoji Temple in Tokyo. There she asks to train as a monk and becomes the only woman and the only foreigner to be accepted.

The training is extreme and involves daily observances like meditation, chanting, menial work and begging with minimal sleep and food. Broderick notes that Maura is given the name Soshin, meaning enlightened, warm heart; which makes Maura very happy since Soshin rhymes with Oisin, the Gaelic word meaning “little dear” and the namesake of an Irish poet and warrior legend.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeMaura’s deep love for her fellow Japanese monks and her disciplined study impress the Dogen Zen Master so much that she graduates in only a year as a Tenzo monk and named second in command. While this achievement might be a prescription for finding Zen, it goes completely awry when Maura is suddenly killed in a bus accident. At 27 years of age, she intended to do a short tour of Southeast Asia but died in Bangkok, Thailand.

Maura’s journals came to be called Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind , with many people believing she had become a sort of Zen saint. Her words provide a fascinating insight into her path towards enlightenment, and the joy she hoped to bring to Ireland by founding a temple and teaching Zen.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeIn 1994, Lion’s Roar – a Buddhist magazine – shared some of Maura’s reflections about life behind temple walls. What surprised me was her candid thoughts about gender (which were never an issue) and the unconditional acceptance she felt among her fellow monks. But when I think about her quest to attain “mu” (to embody a completely blank mind and to erase all worldly concerns), I can’t imagine anyone ever  achieving this kind of detachment from our beautiful world.

Having visited Bangkok several years ago, I remember sensing something greater than myself. Entering several Buddhist temples and traveling into the countryside, I saw dozens of golden statues. Each was unique and massive in scale – whether it was a lying Buddha, reclining Buddha, or sitting Buddha. To my surprise, each seemed to elicit a strange spiritual calm even though my mind wrestled with the Catholic doctrines also initially shared by Maura.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeTraveling through the streets and touring along the Chao Phraya River, I considered two worlds: the modern conveniences of cars and a luxurious shopping mall commingled with the solemn but industrious movement of brightly clad monks and their young charges. I wondered what it must be like to live behind tall iron gates and if I could ever relinquish all worldly possessions.

Bangkok is filled with incredible architecture and royal lifestyles, like my stay at the Lebua Tower. The hotel service was exceptional and super affordable, with rooms costing the same as those of two or three star hotel in America. The vanishing edge pool and Lebua sky-bar, perched some 820 feet above the city, boosts one of the best views in the world.

No wonder one of the scenes from the movie Hangover-part 2 was filmed there. It could easily be mistaken for a Las Vegas hotel. The photo taken from the balcony of my room shows how developed Bangkok is despite the massive poverty and simple vehicles used to get around; tuk-tuk mini-buses and rickshaw bikes were a popular sight.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life
happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life

Only now, looking back at this experience and the roads that I have traveled throughout my life, do I realize that enlightenment is not found in books, temples or churches. While these can provide valuable knowledge and guidance for living a contemplative life, they are not enough.

The inter-religious dialogue that Maura Soshin O’Halloran pursued was personal and purpose-driven but incomplete. There is no one way to happiness and enlightenment except through the convergent paths we share with one another and the awareness that comes from the everlasting pursuit of being more conscious.

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven lifeIt’s simple to say we need to understand our interconnections. This is particularly challenging if we see it as a burden. What I do know is that the more open I am to the world and the more I reflect without judgment on those who come into my life, the more happiness and understanding seem to follow.

While researching this article, I found a startling journal entry by Maura. The source looks like a Buddhist blog – if such a thing can exist – and the entry is written by someone named Terebess . Maura is preparing to leave the temple

and tour Southeast Asia. She knows her life has been purposeful and satisfied, and eerily portends her death. The challenge for each of us is to ask ourselves how satisfied we are with life as we know it.

“I’m twenty-six and I feel as If I’ve lived my life. Strange sensation, almost as if I’m close to death. Any desires, ambitions, hopes I may have had have either been fulfilled or spontaneously dissipated. I’m totally content. Of course I want to get deeper, see clearer, but even if I could only have this paltry, shallow awakening, I’d be quite satisfied…. So in a sense I feel I’ve died. For myself there is nothing else to strive after, nothing more to make my life worthwhile or to justify it. At twenty-six, a living corpse and such a life! … If I have another fifty or sixty years (who knows?) of time, I want to live it for other people. What else is there to do with it? … So I must go deeper and deeper and work hard, no longer for me, but for everyone I can help.”

happiness, enlightenment, Maura Soshin O'Halloran, Buddha, Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, Connollys Book Store, Dublin, Ireland, Zen, Japan, Toyko, Trinity college, County Wicklow, Toshoji Temple, meditation, chanting, Oisin, Soshin, Gaelic, mu, monks, Bangkok, Thailand, Of Pure Heart and Enlightened Mind, saint, Lion's roar, Hangover 2, Chao Phraya River, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, purpose driven life

Art moves us to think, feel and experience. Why else do we visit galleries, gardens and museums?

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Artwork helps us enjoy and reflect while also explaining our history. If art provides a better understanding of self, consider what would your painted self-portrait look like?

Would it capture a physical likeness of being or would the process and the materials – the paint strokes and color palettes – resonate on a deeper level to be a more proximate reflection of self?

Enter one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century, Maria Lassnig (1919-2014). The blazing red banner hanging from the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy announces her Woman Power exhibit as it roars through centuries of history, steeped in art produced by men.

Lassnig’s roar champions the powerful voice of women artists while also ushering in a new and unusual perspective on the creative process. Not only is this creative approach an important discussion of how Lassnig sees the influence of the world on her psyche, but it’s also a harbinger for the kind of reflective conversation we should be having in a world inundated with the pressures to conform.

Lassnig is typically described as an Austrian artist and pioneer of the feminist movement because of her quest for female emancipation. This is certainly an accurate description. Her work developed after the second war, at a time when women were exploring cultural confines and challenging the status quo and limitations to personal freedom.

The subject matter was also about women but with a new twist. Lassnig’s approach to her all-consuming subject was herself.

She focused on the self-portrait for almost all of her art, and made her physical image a backdrop to what she saw in the outside world. This shaped and expressed her perception of herself as a container for the inner feelings of the world.

This perspective was new to the world, especially with the added female lens. Lassnig was one of the early adopters of this art style, named after the French term Informel or Art Informel. This trailblazing creative process abandoned geometric abstraction for a more intuitive form of expression – a sort of action-art. The process is the action, and the action drives the methodology of her style as she focused more on gestural techniques.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

You can see this in her unusual works from photographs I took of the exhibit pieces. The painting above, Sleeping With the Tiger 1975, suggests she has made some peace with the animal as she holds the top of its powerful paw. This is a far cry from her earlier feelings, shown in the photos below. One shows shows her standing under herself, with a plastic layer that seems to suffocate her. She is muted and quiet, surrendering. The portrait next to this one, taken in 1981, is very different – a stunned look that is almost afraid or questioning.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art
Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Lassnig’s focused dialogue with her art spanned five decades, and included a variety of mediums including painting, film and sculpture. Foremost, she considered herself a painter. But,  her uniquely honest and egocentric approach catapulted her to greatness in Austria and the larger international stage. Her focus on self was certainly not vain and to the contrary, she was  acutely vulnerable as she openly displayed her feelings, her pain and her state of mind. In her own words, she admits she willingly took a scalpel to herself, not wanting to exploit others.

The two paintings below, the Potato Press (1989) and the Man Cutting Himself in Two (1986), show her evolution as a painter.  They are bolder and challenge conventional manifestations of self in relation to the outside world; her physiology is completely transformed and resembles nothing of the human form. They creatively move past any recognizable perception of self and into a world where external forces and influences make it increasingly more difficult to understand who we are and what we value.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

These paintings force us to ask how we are responding to pressures and social messages. Lassnig feels like a potato in a press, squeezed and molded into a new shape that differs from its original form. The press is an apt symbol and the hot-colored red potato is squeezed into a grip. The scissor image is even sharper. Lassnig is cutting off her head which could mean any number of things from a severing of the emotional and intellectual to her frustration at the perceived male/female divisions in the world.  

How many of us feel these modern constraints and contexts influencing our ego? Can we be our true self or see our true self when society’s influences weigh so greatly on our self-awareness and subconscious? These insights are timely as women struggle to balance traditional and societal gender roles with a desire to be who we are free from these confines.  Men face these same questions. With ever-present influence of media and marketing campaigns that tell us to avoid pain, to create a happy persona on Facebook or to adopt populus attitudes about norms and expectations, how can we discover who we really are?   

This is the beauty of art and the brilliance of Maria Lassnig. She offers herself as a mirror of her time and circumstance, prompting us to consider our own notions of self. It’s no surprise Lassnig won the coveted Golden Lion Award for Lifetime achievement at Art Biennale in 2013, only a year before her death. Her work created a paradigm shift not unlike other art movements, such as Cubism or Impressionism. This exhibit is part of two annual shows that Italy’s Tourism Board has created to celebrate the accomplishments of women artists.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of ArtAs Lassnig continued to challenge herself, her work became a more dramatic discussion. In this 2005 painting that was part of a 2014 exhibit at the Modern Museum of Art, It’s You or Me, I can’t help but wonder if Lassnig became totally disenchanted with the world and felt forced to make a choice: conforming to society’s expectations was nihilistic. Her physical image is more representative of her older physical self, hopefully suggesting she is no longer defined by the emotions of the world and claiming her own powerful self.  

I can only hope that women continue to gain a foothold in the art world, pushing their creativity as society stands up to the challenge of reframing the new reality: 51% of visual artists are women even though their art work in museums represents a disappointing 3-5% representation by female artists in permanent art collections in the U.S. and Europe, and a 34% representation in Australia.

While there are likely many reasons to explain why female artists have received less attention than their male counterparts in museums (a study that requires more in-depth discussion), these older constructs are no longer valid.  

Real progress will happen when the gender of an artist do not eclipse the focus of her artwork. We need to bridge our conversations in ways that are physical and the many bridges that link Florence across the Arno River (see the last photo). I continue to look for inspiration from artists like Lassnig, who unabashedly forged her own ideas, and from Georgia O’Keeffe, a well known post-modernist painter. O’Keeffe insisted her art should not be defined or interpreted in a sexualized way and she wanted her art to be recognized for her art.

Parting thought: if possible, visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts; the only museum in the world showcasing female-only artworks.

Maria Lassnig, Woman Power, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy, self-portrait, creative artist, Art Informel, Informel, geometric abstraction, Sleeping With the Tiger, portraiture, Golden Lion Award, Art Biennale, Cubism, Impressionism, It’s You or Me, equality, feminism, Arno River, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Moma, Modern Museum of Art

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