Thursday, September 21, 2017

Woman Leaders

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

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

Her unusual talent and passion for fashion turns discarded condoms into something good. Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but this talent has taken Adriana Bertini around the world visiting over 35 different countries in Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Europe and Oceania.

This inventive artistry has also caught the attention of celebs like Charlize Theron, Richard Gere, Bob Geldof and Elton John. I can’t imagine cutting and fashioning a condom 80 different ways, but this feat is even more impressive as her mind-boggling art collections – over 200 sculptures, 160 dresses and 80 tapestries – transform our understanding of sexual health, love and respect.

Adriana Bertini is a remarkable woman and native of São Paulo, Brazil. She started making haute couture clothing until she became disillusioned with society’s rampant material consumption. Bothered as well by the negative environmental footprint of consumerism and condoms (defective condoms from factories are incinerated and send toxic chemicals into the air), Adriana put her artistic talents to work uniting fashion and health.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodAs a fashion activist for over twenty-five years, Adriana has devoted her time and talents to important social causes surrounding inequality, discrimination and stereotyping. Some of her greatest efforts include working with Amnesty International’s Brussel campaign to end female genital mutilation, as well as helping a variety of other non-governmental organizations and AIDS patients.

This kind of dedication is infectious and has become more popular among artists and celebrities who share Adriana’s passion for changing the world. Organizations like clothing brand H&M have also stepped up to partner for causes, like this 2008 t-shirt design glossing the cover of ELLE magazine. It was a collaborative project in support of Designers Against Aids (DAA).

Adriana’s collaboration with artist-friend Ninette Murk is also a great example of artists working together on projects like DAA. Adriana’s friend Ninette is the founder and creative director of DAA, and each year new initiatives like her Beauty Without Irony in 2008 raise financial support and awareness for AIDs, while also examining superficial perceptions of beauty.

Adriana was inspired by her work with Ninette and other fashion designers, but the heavy toll of her challenging volunteer work with AIDs patience started to negatively impact her life. The sadness of caring for so many sick and neglected people, who suffered from injustice and prejudice, weighed heavily on her artistic sensitivities.

The grief from losing friends impacted her physical, emotional and creative work, causing Adriana to rethink her approach.

Influenced by her father, a sociologist who taught her to believe anything was possible, Adriana knew she had the power to change the world with three simple tools: compassion, generosity and love.

Armed with this renewed spirit, Adriana shifted gears. She decided to focus on proactive health initiatives and educating younger generations. This moved the conversation away from treating diseases to positive conversations amongst families. Adrianna saw how many parents were uncomfortable talking to their kids about sexual health. As a result, young people weren’t aware of important questions relating to how they treated or viewed their own body. Attitudes about self-esteem, implications related to sexual behavior, the risks of infection from sexually transmitted diseases, gender identity, sexual abuse, discrimination, abortion and a long list of other considerations were simply ignored.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

But where to start? There’s nothing like wowing an audience and this photo from journalist Leo Goulart does exactly that, illustrating the wow factor of Adriana’s creations. Adriana knew the social aspects of using condoms naturally tied into sexual health awareness, so she created amazing dresses and sculptures. Some of these dresses in the photo above used as many as 80,000 condoms and were fantastic attention-getters.

Even though most people don’t immediately identify her art with environmental consciousness, it certainly draws you in. By creating Condom Art Workshops, like the one described in the photo below, Adriana started collaborating with high schools and universities to build awareness around the use of condoms.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

These workshops were an immediate success, and Adriana saw how much women in particular benefited.

Women learn they have the power to negotiate condom use and to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. But deeper discussions about topics like self-esteem, respect your body, the purpose of sex, and loving yourself follow from these insightful conversations.

As the mother of two young children, Adriana can relate to the sensitive nature of these topics and the need for professional support from educators to guide students. Adriana has also welcomed a psychologist into her work to ensure education workshops are age appropriate and ideologically sensitive.  In a short time, Adriana watched as more parents and kids talked about sex and its complex issues, and this continued to push her to want to do more. The photo below shows Adriana’s stop in Senegal, as she travels the world sharing her vision.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

Adriana believes it’s not enough to talk about condoms and more needs to be done to break stereotypes and stigmas surrounding their use. You can see kids at work in the photos below, as  Adriana creates internships and opportunities that inspire a new generation of leaders. Eventually, Adriana would like to open her museum and work space dedicated to growing her cause. She’s open to partnering with organizations and hopes that one day everyone will see  condoms as a second skin.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good
Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for Good

I think it was destiny that helped me discover Adriana’s incredible story. Pursuing research for another article brought me to New York’s Museum of  Sex on 5th Avenue. The museum was completely underwhelming and filled with racy collections, except for one glass enclosed case. Inside was a mesmerizing purple party dress that was part of an exhibit tracing the evolution of the condom.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodThe New York Times had written a piece about Adriana but the 1,200 hand-dyed purple condoms (pictured left) moved me to want to learn more about its creator. The dress promoted the condom as a image of prevention and pleasure and I knew I had seen one like it about seven years before in Bangkok, Thailand.

I had dined with my cousin in a restaurant called Condoms and Cabbages; where a portion of all sales helped undeserved populations have access to birth control. I still remember the odd looking Santa and Thai woman condom costumes in the middle of the restaurant, a popular tourist site. A small sign drew attention to the need for safe sex and  awareness about HIV. Evidence of declining HIV infections in Thailand suggests programs like these are working.

Adriana Bertini: A Passion for Fashion for GoodWhen I asked Adriana about this restaurant, she admitted that many of her creations have been copied. She had worked on an exhibit in Thailand in 2004 and answered questions about her designs before the restaurant was opened. Whether this was coincidence or not, Adriana is flattered and focused on the larger impact that her work serves.

Adriana and the creators of WomanScape share a common belief – that art has the power to change the world and to build greater self-awareness and understanding. So I couldn’t help but smile when Adriana added that she took solace in Coco Chanel who believed that if you want to be original, you should get ready to be copied.  Like Coco who blazed a trail in the fashion industry, Adriana is doing that and more with her determination and creativity.

If you’d like to know more or connect with Adriana, she can be reached through Instagram @AdrianaBertini or on Facebook. You can also contact Adriana by email at: condomart@gmail.com

Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince William

Lady Diana Spencer once told the press she was not a royal. She was a humanitarian who hoped to become the people’s queen of hearts. Judging by the outpouring of grief after her death, and the still Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince Williamever-popular documentaries and new articles examining her life, Diana was  undoubtedly one of the most popular royals of the twentieth century. Even though she was never officially crowned a queen, Diana’s popularity and her untimely death forever changed the role of modern queens.

The crown has always represented wealth, power and authority. But over time, all monarchs have responded to evolving political institutions and public opinion. In many cases, the result has challenged and even reduced approval ratings for monarchs in many countries, especially in Britain.

Currently, there are more than 27 monarchs ruling in over 40 countries, governing about 8% of the world’s population. That’s over 539 million people, which includes British commonwealth countries like Canada and New Zealand who still honor ties to the royal family. Whether they rule symbolically as figureheads or with  legislative powers, most monarchs influence some moral sway over their citizens. The map above shows where monarchies rule in the Middle East, Europe and North America, including  commonwealth countries.

Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince WilliamRemember, this doesn’t mean our admiration for royal history, jewels and fashionable lifestyles will ever go out of practice; despite any perceived or actual changes to their ruling powers. In fact, our admiration and public opinion seem to be an increasingly important barometer for royal families who want to be admired and relevant. In turn, they realize this provides a more favorable position for them to influence populous beliefs. 

Anyone who has seen the Imperial Crown worn by Queen Elizabeth II or follows the monarchy knows we can’t help but marvel at royal history. Just look at the recent hit Netflix shows, The Crown and Victoria. A visit to The Tower of London and its most popular attraction, the Imperial Crown, also underscores this point. Pictured here has 2,868 diamonds, with a solitary 317 carat Cullinan II diamond perched on top; this diamond is the second largest clear cut diamond in the world, next to the 350 carat Star of Africa.

The British love of all things royal continues to support an industry of tourists who frequent palaces and special museum exhibits at popular sites like the Victoria and Albert Museum. This year’s Kensington Palace tribute to Lady Diana, Diana: Her Fashion Story, was particularly grand and speaks to her effect on the monarchy. The old out show illustrates how people continue to be enthralled by Diana’s personal life as well as her international celebrity.   

Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince WilliamAll of this attention has pushed the  British Queen to be more accessible. Tabloids, newspapers and fashion magazines that traced Diana’s life moments continue to be hungry for royal news, like Diana’s son and heir apparent to the throne Prince William. William’s wife, Kate Middleton, has become a favorite especially when she reminds us of Diana or wears crowns like those favored by Diana – the Lover’s Knot tiara.

Before getting to the Diana exhibit, visitors have to walk through a series of rooms that showcase 18th century lifestyles. It’s a wonderful contrast to the Diana exhibit and zeros in on the royal mindset.  Royal clothing and customs in the 1740’s were a demonstrative show. A mantua was worn for formal occasions as an ostentatious display of one’s wealth and status. Gowns like this beautiful silk “tree of life” design were made by highly skilled craftsmen and were so wide that women couldn’t possibly walk through a doorway without turning sideways. I’m not sure what women did if they had to go to the bathroom! And men’s dressing suits were equally glamorous. Made of fine silk and rich baroque designs, they were adorned with lace sleeves and hand-stitched gold and silver button details.

Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince WilliamWhen visitors to the Kensington Palace finally reach the Diana exhibit, you realize what a breath of fresh air she brought to the royal family. Diana’s clothes are elegant and simplified, while still denoting a regal air. Her fashion choices gradually become more relaxed and less stiff as she does with her royal position. This romantic pink gown she was photographed in for one of her first royal sittings with Prince Charles is heavy and formal, reflecting a more aloof and stiff royal family.

Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince William Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince William

Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince WilliamSo as Diana’s styles change over the years,we see her embrace a modern and more sophisticated yet approachable persona. Her Vogue cover photos reveal a Shy Di turned working woman, who becomes a powerful messenger for the royal family’s influence overseas. Attending more than 130 engagements in a year, she transformed the royal office and its diplomatic ties in a way that resonates with the British people. They respond happy to see a more mainstream, approachable style.

In this way, Diana inspired change in several ways. Her clothes took a backseat to the humanitarian concerns that needed the world’s attention – problem like AIDS, landmines, and palliative care.  Diana also used her celebrity status for people to see that even royals struggled with common problems. When she openly shared her marital problems and eating disorder, this horrified the queen and royals but endeared Diana to the people.

This speaks to the heightened power of other queens, who have followed Diana’s example, making themselves more accessible to their people. Taking a few pages from Diana’s playbook, Queen Letizia of Spain has become a popular style icon and influencer.  As the wife of reigning King Felipe VI, Queen Letizia is loved by her people. Her background as a television journalist helps her connect and promote Spanish culture. I can’t imagine any queen in previous history creating a website to showcase clothes worn during her royal duties, and they using this popular site to offer a chance for admirers to follow links for purchasing these clothes.

Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince WilliamOthers like Queen Silvia of Sweden, the longest reigning queen in Swedish history, use their position to promote humanitarian causes, like the World Childhood Foundation. But the really interesting queen to watch, in my eyes, is Queen Rania of Jordan. Her photo hints at the reasons why she has become the most popular queen that Jordan has ever had.

As the wife of King Abdullah II, Queen Rania radiates a modern, chic vibe. Her use of YouTube and Instagram is revolutionary, helping us to question longstanding notions about Arab women’s freedoms. These modern channels dispel stereotypes, especially when she shares her fairy tale story on YouTube.  Michael Buble’s Crazy World song plays in the background, and we see a more transparent and intouch Arab world.

Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince WilliamSeeing the new shine on royal crowns around the world, I couldn’t be more pleased. Diana can be remembered for the legacy of changed expectations and her inspiring role that may have helped other royals to connect with the world in a more meaningful way.

Looking back at Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and the way she has responded to threats against the monarchy’s relevance and hard questions forced by Diana’s death, I’d say Queen Elizabeth II has stepped up her efforts. It can’t be easy learning to adapt to new forms of communication in a way that still honors royal customs and traditions at 91 years of age. But if her @RoyalFamily twitter handle is any indication, Queen Elizabeth II has lots more under those bright royal hats to share with the world. And when it’s time to pass the crown to another queen – possibly Princess Kate Middleton – I think Diana would be pleased.

Lady Diana, crown, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch, queen of hearts, queen of the people, Imperial Crown, The Crown, Victoria, Tower of London, British commonwealth, Diana: Her Fashion Story, Kate Middleton, Prince William, mantua, treee of life, Kensington Palace, Shy Di, King Felipe VI, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jordan, Arab world, Queen Letizia, King Abdullah II, Michael Buble, @RoyalFamily, Prince William

A gathering of some of royal monarchs who attended the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda Seymour

Ever think about the number of successful queens in the entertainment industry? There’s the sweet success of Oprah’s new Sugar Queen – a series about a modern-day mother named Charley Bordelon who runs a sugarcane farm in Louisiana. And who can forget Beyoncé, the royal queen B whose superstardom rivals one of my long-standing favorites, comedic actress and singer Queen Latifah. I’m forever fascinated by the many women who call themselves queen. Whether it’s  Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile (Katharine Hepburn) or the recent WomanScape Queen of the Desert article, I don’t know if any of them rival one of the most moving stories you’ll ever hear. I’m talking about the Bugatti Queen.

The Bugatti Queen tore through the pages of history and onto my radar a few years back at the annual Goodwood Revival Festival. I’m a fan of antique cars and powerful engines, so it’s fitting that I met my girl there after striking up a casual conversation with a group of women standing around some pretty nice roadsters. This backdrop couldn’t have been more perfect.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourGoodwood is an annual three day festival held every September at the Goodwood Circuit Racetrack, 60 miles outside of London, England. The event celebrates the best of British vintage fashions from the 40’s through the 80’s. Luxury car makers like Maserati, DeLorean, Ferrari and Aston Martin flock there to test car engines and relive the glory days of antique car racing.

The 12,000 acre park welcomes over 150,000 people who come from around the world. They cheer celebrity car drivers like Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) and enjoy exciting air shows featuring old Lancaster and Spitfire bomber planes. Music shows and vintage markets are added attractions, and big ticket sponsors of the event attend the invitation-only charity dinner hosted by the Earl of March on Saturday night.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourWhen I arrive at the festival in my rented fawn-colored dress and head of curly hair decorated with oversized sunglasses, I’ve traveled back in time with the other attendees. Lord Freddie March, a proud patriot and car racing enthusiast, is the owner of Goodwood Estate and grandson of the Earl of March; he’s pictured opening the event. The Earl built the track in 1948 to showcase race cars and warplanes, flown by British and Canadian airmen using his property as a secret refueling station during WWII.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda Seymour

As I wander among the impressive rows of car paddocks, admiring the machinery and the costumed people walking by, I see three purring convertibles – a creamy Bonnie and Clyde looking roadster, a silver-blue speedster like the one from the first Bridget Jones movie and a rich, forest-green machine.  I fire questions at a beautiful, twenty-something redhead and another blonde dressed in a white, hourglass mechanic’s outfit.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourThere’s an entire pit crew of bond-esque women working the park and the racetrack. Some are dressed in pink and violet jumpsuits (see the photo further down) helping to stagger the cars for the start of the race. Others are in white or blue jumpsuits mingling with the attendees like me.

Thankfully the girl from the silver blue car agrees to pose for pictures as we discuss what it was like for women behind the wheel in the 20’s. At a time when many women raced to the altar for a Mrs., a groups of women around Europe were racing to the finish line in the French Grand Prix Women’s event.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourWomen of the 20’s were already pushing the boundaries of fashion and traditional rules in risqué flapper fashions, from low cut dresses and exposed knees, to rocking R&B tunes in smoky, dark speakeasies. New freedoms came as the Suffragette movement earned the vote for women in Britain, other parts of Europe and the United States; even though women in France couldn’t vote until 1944.

But the standout beauty I was enthralled with at Goodwood was a fantastic Bugatti car, and the story behind its driver was mind-blowing. After moving to Paris in her teens, Helene Delangle became Hellé Nice, an exotic dancer who worked in risqué dance halls like the Casino de Paris. These were the same kind of “establishments” where the famed American beauty, Josephine Baker, worked.

Hellé met wealthy club patrons, including the wealthy French car manufacturer Ettore Bugatti. He introduced her to life in the fast lane until she fell in a horrible ski accident. The injuries ruined her dance career but spawned a new one, when she traded her dance shoes for racing gloves. She jumped at Bugatti’s offer to drive his Type 35C racecar in five major Grand Prix races in France.  The photo below is a Bugatti Type 35C sold at Sotheby’s Auction in 2014 for $638,000.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda SeymourHellé soon discovered that the press loved her trail of blonde curls and her shameless bravado. She was given the nickname “Bugatti Queen” when newspapers reported stories of love affairs and a larger-than-life personality.

Just as Hellé was enjoying her success, she crashed her car  in 1936 on a Brazilian racetrack. Narrowly escaping death after her car somersaulted through the air and ejected her, she became even larger than life. The Brazilians idolized her when she woke from a three-day coma and left the hospital two months later.

With the onset of World War II, the racing scene slowed.  Hellé planned her comeback in a Monte Carlo Rally in 1949, but a fellow driver wrongly accused her of conspiring with the Nazis during WWII. The scandal ruined any chance at a return to racing and made her unemployable.

Eventually, Hellé was cleared of the charges but the damage was done. She had competed in more than seventy events and pioneered female race car driving. Sadly, she died forgotten and penniless. Yet, her fearless approach to life lives on in Miranda Seymour’s  book about Helle’s riveting life; The Bugatti Queen.

Sugar Queen, Queen B, Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Queen Victoria, Queen of the Nile, Queen of Diamonds, Queen of the Desert, Bugatti Queen, Goodwood Revival Festival, Goodwood, Lord March, Earl of March, Goodwood Estate, Lancaster, Spitfire, Bridget Jones, French Grand Prix Race, Helle Nice, Helene Delangle, Josephine Baker, Helle, Ettore Bugatti, Bugatti, Monte Carlo Rally, Miranda Seymour

As modern women continue to break conventional rules and expectations, Hellé confidence in a male dominated sport stands out. Sarah Edwards, featured in a WomanScape’s Queen of Diamonds article, reminded me of Hellé. They both exude a strength and conviction necessary for overcoming stereotypes. I wonder if Hellé’s career would have turned out differently had she been a man and no so outspoken and unconventional. Nothing can change Hellé’s French Grand Prix victory at the autodrome de Linas in 1929, and her courage can only inspire more women to race to their own finish lines with the same racer’s spirit.

Maya, Hungary National Gallery, Danube River, Fearless Girl, Gyula Pauer, Marina Abramovi, WomanScape, Kristen Visbal, badass, women, Melissa McCarthy, Spy movie, Dove, Pantene, #MyBeautyMySay, #ShineStrong, Margaret Thatcher, Always Napkins, #LikeAGirl

I met Maya in Hungary’s National Gallery. We could be sisters except that Maya’s wooden, with multi-layered wrappings of sheer, linen-like, fabric.

Maya, Hungary National Gallery, Danube River, Fearless Girl, Gyula Pauer, Marina Abramovi, WomanScape, Kristen Visbal, badass, women, Melissa McCarthy, Spy movie, Dove, Pantene, #MyBeautyMySay, #ShineStrong, Margaret Thatcher, Always Napkins, #LikeAGirlBut she looked like I felt – open and vulnerable to the world. She stands motionless on a dark pedestal, eyes closed and arms tucked neatly under her gossamer layered clothing and a floor length veil.  The deep gash slicing the middle of her abdomen accentuated her composed resistance and beauty. Maya’s beauty is her impassive resolve; not some sexualized social construct or aesthetic definition of female power.

Maya is the 1978 creation of artist Gyula Pauer, whose surrealist and theatrical sculptures have undertones like the performance art of Marina Abramovic. I featured Marina in an earlier WomanScape article about “Tearing Down Walls.” Both artists invite audiences into an illusionist world, inviting us to identify more personally with the social concerns of our time.

Maya, Hungary National Gallery, Danube River, Fearless Girl, Gyula Pauer, Marina Abramovi, WomanScape, Kristen Visbal, badass, women, Melissa McCarthy, Spy movie, Dove, Pantene, #MyBeautyMySay, #ShineStrong, Margaret Thatcher, Always Napkins, #LikeAGirlDespite her age, Maya is a relevant and timeless social commentary. She precedes New York’s Fearless Girl on Wall Street art (defiant Latin girl in the face of a charging bull) by Kristen Visbal. Fearless Girl made headlines in early 2017 yet both Maya and the girl capture an attitude and the complex ways we are affected by society’s shortcomings. They also speak to our perceptions about our place and role within this broader society, especially with issues like gender parity and stereotyping.

In this way, Pauer’s figure is purposefully misleading and ageless, when you consider the deceptively badass power of women.

When I first saw Maya in the National Gallery in Budapest, I was staying at the Greshem hotel where Melissa McCarthy filmed parts of the blockbuster hit, Spy. I could see the National Gallery in the top left corner of this photo that I took from my hotel room; it had a spectacular view overlooking the Danube River.

Maya, Hungary National Gallery, Danube River, Fearless Girl, Gyula Pauer, Marina Abramovi, WomanScape, Kristen Visbal, badass, women, Melissa McCarthy, Spy movie, Dove, Pantene, #MyBeautyMySay, #ShineStrong, Margaret Thatcher, Always Napkins, #LikeAGirl

Maya’s exterior mirrors that of Melissa’s character, Susan. Susan is a homey, secretary-type CIA agent who is forced to work behind a desk. Her appearance suggests she is weak and incapable of being a field agent. Movie watchers learn, however, that Susan was a stellar CIA rookie with amazing performance results in the training program. Her true physical strength and agility are kept hidden under her intelligence, and Susan is rewarded by making agents in the field look good. That is, until her unassuming character is forced to reveal her humble but kick-ass self. This same quiet feminist statement rings true in our modern world for fear we’ll be labeled.

Maybe our progress has stalled? My vision of Maya’s psyche and the duality of our existence in the world seems to be moving mainstream. I’m not so sure this is a good thing, even though it helps build awareness for and among women. Companies and organizations realize the power of their advertising messages that target our status, but they’re also utilizing this emotional pull for increased sales.

Just look at the popularity of Dove soap or Pantene hair product campaigns.

Dove soap appeals to the #MyBeautyMySay and Pantene hair products say #ShineStrong when they tell us it’s time to stop worrying and apologizing. They recognize women want to be seen as attractive and confident, even if society labels them provocative and bossy. Nothing new here.

Unlike art, however, these ads also commercialize our emotional frustration. I’d like to know how many of these companies are investing profits from these campaigns to improve women’s status and social practices of discrimination? Sure, it’s good to know someone is listening when companies like Always sanitary napkins tell us they understand, but what are they actually doing to help women? You can bet someone is making money when 64 million people watch #LikeAGirl champion stereotypes or the #WhipIt Pantene commercial seen by over 1 million viewers. Pantene is even segmenting its female audience to improve their target marketing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xYsvcKfq8E

Looking back two years to the day that I met Maya, and the impression that she made, I am more powerful. The old me who walked through the marketplace in Budapest, admiring pictures of Margaret Thatcher, would not be so startled by the uniformed woman who tapped on my shoulder in rapid morse-like code when I started taking pictures of Maya.

Today, I would not apologize to the guard questioning the sticker pressed to my chest. My sticker gave me permission to take pictures for a few extra Forints. The new me would say nothing. I would simply stand like Maya, self-assured and stoic.

Wonder Woman Kaboom

Wonder Woman is back and wrestling the cosmic powers of darkness. If you haven’t seen the movie, get ready for Gal Godot’s big screen portrayal of DC Comic’s character Diana Prince, Princess of the Amazons. She’s lassoed a huge following and a new generation of Wonder Woman fans while topping world box office charts with early sales in excess of $450 million U.S.

This action-packed, visually compelling, and smartly written movie packs a whole lot of superhero battle scenes. They are punctuated with delightful comedic bouts that underscore a powerful and timely message about women and their place in the world. Yet I couldn’t help ponder its success: what is this message, and why now? Is there a dearth of good movies right now or maybe a worldwide consciousness about women bolstered by the resurgence of a global women’s movement?

Gal Gadot is WonderWoman and the Director on setThe answer is yes and no. Yes, there is a dearth of good superhero movies, if you follow tweets from social media and movie reviewers. Both have called Wonder Woman the most inspiring superhero movie in years. Twitter feeds by men and women alike celebrate film director Patty Jenkins’ blockbuster ability to capture the essence of the Marvel hero story-line.  (Photo: Clay Enos/TM & DC Comics) And, here’s a newsflash: gender doesn’t seem to matter in any of these tweets!

Just ask Mike who says, “Christopher Reeve’s Superman: true north superhero w/ no angst or cynicism, which is needed right now.” Or Adam, who wrote: “Happy — no, RELIEVED — to report that #WonderWoman is truly good. Funny, stirring, kick-ass, romantic. A solid, entertaining superhero film.” A woman name Alison chimed in, adding that “Gal Godot is absolutely phenomenal as #WonderWoman. She KILLS it, just surprisingly good. A truly heroic light DCEU desperately needs.”

But these joyful responses move beyond gender confines, praising Wonder Woman outside of its superhero genre. Twitter follower Alisha said, “There’s a scene in #WonderWoman that made me cry tears of joy – so rare to see a (literal) army of women acting so competently on film.” Alisha’s sentiment, bolstered by thousands of other women and girls who shared their elation across Facebook and Twitter, hints at the movie’s deeper appeal. Wonder Woman celebrates the empowerment of women and the critical (yet often subjected) role of women in fighting the “evils” of the world.

the power is in us all to be wonder womanThis moves the feminist wave, felt round the world in January 2017, past the #WomenMarchGlobal twitter trend. The discussion #WhatWomenWantin4Words trend is a gender equal world, as movie audiences applaud Wonder Woman in countries like France, U.K. and Brazil. It’s not surprising to see women empowered in these places, but it is in other countries like Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates. Wonder Woman’s success in countries where women struggle for equality signals their strong desire to recognize and harness their power. It also says that women all over the world are willing to spend money to see women-centered movies.

Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood magazine, agrees. She says people everywhere will watch movies with women protagonists and women-focused stories when these movies have the necessary budget and the right amount of real marketing and advertising dollars to be a successful large-scale international release.

This truth reaches new heights when you consider one of the most memorable lines from the Wonder Woman movie. Early in the film, Hippolyta warns Diana early to “be careful in the world of men (Diana), for they do not deserve you.” Diana realizes this truth when she decides to help humanity despite our mortal flaws and maybe because of them. Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of humanity, disproving that all men are undeserving of Diana’s help.

So, while Wonder Woman is undoubtedly good storytelling with a sizable marketing budget, its success is also explained by key factors in our changing world. The first of these is the growing number of men like movie reviewer Roy Sexton who are joining with women to help promote the Diana-like warriors in our world. Roy lends his unabashed support and writing talents advocating for feminism and equal rights.

Roy is the creator of ReelRoy Reviews, a website dedicated to movie reviews and personal musings about the theater. After stumbling upon Roy’s Wonder Woman review, I realized it was more than a fascinating historical account of this Marvel Comic Book character’s iterations. Roy’s article is filled with gritty praise and a few sections that he kindly allowed me to share on WomanScape. Please navigate to Roy’s site and send him a note if you like what he has to say in this paragraph below. Roy can be reached at: Reel Roy Reviews and Twitter.

After this section in the article, Roy goes on to describe the backdrop to the movie’s setting and the nascent suffrage movement that continued to make waves for women in society during World War I. He freely admits “the movie is most thrilling when Diana leads a ragtag band of adorably mismatched soldiers across the Western Front, [with Diana] marching directly through the battle lines, armed only with her wits, her magic bracelets, and her righteous indignation over the horrors she has just witnessed befalling everyday families (and horses).”

While Roy admits to crying during this movie sequence, I felt like I was Diana pushing through the front line alongside her. When I suddenly realized I was gripping the edge of my seat and clenching my teeth, I relaxed back into my chair and noticed a packed audience that looked just as invested as I felt.

WomanScape celebrates Roy’s kicking definition of feminism, the affirmation from Wonder Woman’s box office sales and the powerful message it brings to audiences. The world needs wonder men and wonder women who embrace compassion and inclusivity.  Human beings are worth saving if we can believe and follow the examples of Steve and Diana and not lose faith.

Wonder Woman is the creation of William Moulton Marston, a man who believed women were superior to men and should rule the world. But this wasn’t something men could say back in the 1940’s in America. Thanks to Jill Lepore’s book, The Secret Life of Wonder Woman, we know how much Marston’s unusual personality  and exceptional intelligence (as a graduate of Harvard) affected Diana’s costuming and character. If we suppose that Marston’s invention of the lie detector machine helps to explain why Wonder Woman’s lasso forces captives to tell the truth, it’s not a stretch to suggest Marston also saw women as keepers of the truth. If Wonder Woman embodies the power of all women, women are critical for honesty to prevail in the world and they must be given the same opportunities as men to exercise their powers.

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman

(Photo: Clay Enos/TM & DC Comics)

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