Tag Archives: Women

Millennials; Celebrate Yourselves, Even When Others Don’t

Millennia’s have a bad reputation. The media tells us they are entitled, spoiled and in constant need of approval. But I agree with James Wolcott who wrote in this month’s Vanity Fair; “We may need millennials to remind us what we should have remembered from the 60s, that social change comes only once you stop playing charades.”

Many of the young women I have met are passionate to make this turbulent world a better place. I admit, as a photographer working at the intersection of the women’s movement and goddess spirituality I have both a skewed and limited perspective. And yet, those I do meet are fiercely committed to a wide range of issues; the environment, animal rights, social justice, water quality, women’s spirituality, gender equality and more. Smart and entrepreneurial, these young women are using a new set of skills – social media savvy and technical acumen – to trumpet their demand for change.

Meet one such woman, Kiri Laurelle Davis; a filmmaker and social activist; a change maker; an artist with a mission.

In 2005, 16-year-old Kiri directed a short documentary film entitled “A Girl Like Me“.  Kiri used her film to explore the standards of beauty being imposed on today’s black girls. This powerful, award winning film underscored the negative toll Eurocentric standards were having on African American young women, harming their self esteem, self-image and fundamental self worth. Not content to stop there, Kiri continued to fuse her passion for art and activism by creating the Just Us Project, a multi-media platform to actively address social justice issues through media, art and community outreach. Kiri’s first media piece under this new platform is Our Lives Matter, a public service announcement that poignantly focuses on the racial profiling of young black and Latino boys.

In Goddess on Earth, each portrait begins with the subject’s choice of a goddess archetype to embody, and emerges from a place to personal reflection. Prior to getting together in person, I had a pre-conceived idea of what Goddess Kiri would want to portray. She would be a fierce lioness; a warrior, a fiery spirit forging a new trail with her sword/ camera. In fact, during our early phone conversations, I misconstrued her words. Oya, a Yoruba Goddess of wind and destruction was the sacred myth I thought she said she related to.

Only hours before we were to meet, did she gently correct me. Oshun, the Yoruba Goddess of sweet waters and beauty was the archetype she wanted to portray for Goddess on Earth. Oshun, Kiri said, was a Goddess of love, a sensuous woman, flowing with joy and feminine sexuality. Oshun resonated with her.

Oshun is noted for her beauty, which I feel goes beyond skin deep. I know the beauty in my reflection represents a rich culture of strength, creativity and brilliance. My blackness is beautiful to me because it symbolizes a fierce determination and perseverance. It depicts my own style, grace and a regal beauty that stem from my own distinctive and unique roots. I come from a people who have been exploited, enslaved, dehumanized, stereotyped and continue to rise in spite of tremendous obstacles.

Creating “A Girl Like Me” helped me develop a newfound courage and understanding when it comes to beauty and self love. Like Oshun, who represents beauty, love and art, I have found a loving strength and confidence in myself.

“I no longer look for others to affirm me. I affirm myself. I define myself. And with my art, I want to help women and girls celebrate themselves — even when others don’t. ” wrote Kiri.

YES! YES! YES! How fabulous! How empowered! How inspired! Here is a young woman, confidently embracing her own magnificence and using art to help shift all of our standards of beauty. Here is a young woman, while celebrating the 10th anniversary of her formidable first film, is creating new work teeming with grace, love and beauty, that tackles one of the profound problems of our time – racial injustice and police violence. I am in a state of wonder. Let us pay attention. We have things to learn from this generation.

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Women, Power and the Rule of Three

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My personal relationship with power is fraught with anxiety, self-doubt and fear of conflict. As a woman, I doubt I am alone in this, yet as I struggle with this confounding reality, I wonder what my ideal relationship to power should be?

As an artist with ancient mythology embedded in my DNA, I have examined this issue before. I have photographed prominent feminist leaders such as Gloria Feldt, (who portrayed the strong-willed Lilith, Adam’s first wife), and Starhawk (who portrayedMaeve, the Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty). Both women advocate re-envisioning women’s connection to power.

Other ancient myths reflect our contemporary relationships to power as well. Durga is a fearless Hindu Goddess who symbolizes power in all its forms. Durga — whose name means “invincible” — is a ferocious protectress against injustice and all human suffering. Traditionally she is depicted astride a tiger or lion: symbols of her unlimited power. Often illustrated with eight arms, her capacity for action speaks for itself. Durga also has three eyes: her left eye represents the desire to act, her central eye the capacity to follow through with one’s desires, and her right eye, action itself.

 

DURGA’S LEFT EYE REPRESENTS A STRONG FEELING OF WANTING, OR THE DESIRE TO ACT.

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I was introduced to Francesca Kelly this past summer on Martha’s Vineyard, and returned to photograph her several weeks later. Francesca is a pioneer rescuer of the Marwari, a rare and indigenous Indian horse breed. After a twenty year battle with the Indian Government to lift the export ban of the Marwari, Francesca and her partner Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod have helped resurrect this threatened breed.

 

DURGA’S CENTER EYE REPRESENTS THE CAPACITY TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH ONE’S DESIRES.

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Francesca quickly identified with Sherawali, the warrior incarnation of Durga, and chose to portray her for the Goddess on Earth series. Surrounded by marshes on Chappaquidick Island, we created a commanding image of Sherawali. To accompany her portrait, Francesca wrote:

“It has been my privilege to be a key protagonist in the renaissance of the Marwari. The confidence to actualize ideals, to remain unimpeachable, to incorporate if you will, at the best of times, the qualities of Sherawali, is a battle and sacrifice all must experience.”

 

DURGA’S THIRD EYE IS ACTION ITSELF.

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Francesca’s embodiment of Sherawali in the photographs we created portray the symbolic trinity of Durga’s spiritual stages of power.

Far from being archaic, ancient symbolism continues to influence the necessary re-envisioning of feminine power. Durga demonstrates how modern women can use power in its multiple, generous forms as the manifestation of reflection, intent, and capability. Sherawali and Francesca are role models for contemporary women warriors (my conflicted self included) who are looking to add layers of empowerment to their lives. With mythical and ancient symbolism to guide me, I will continue to nurture my passions, practice and embrace tools for empowerment, and take action to achieve my desires.

(Francesca Kelly is seen with Sushil Kumar, a horse trainer and tent-pegger from Dundlod, India.)

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