Tag Archives: Women’s Rights

WE WOKE, WE ROSE AND WE ARE WOMEN ON FIRE

INNANA Goddess on Earth / MYTHICA photography by Lisa Levart

INNANA
from the series MYTHICA/Goddess on Earth
Photo Collage by Lisa Levart

This year’s International Women’s Day falls forty-six days after women and men around the world made history, staging the largest one-day demonstration on record.

For years, while the Tea Party galvanized its grass roots, the left fell into a slumber. But women are used to acting fast, from grabbing precious moments of sleep between feedings to juggling home and work; to snatching little hands from a hot stove before they burn. On January 21st, we women woke in a fury and went to work. Wearing knitted Pussy hats, we began marching, joining circles of resistance, boycotting stores, relentlessly hounding public officials, chastising politicians on for their lack of leadership and outrage; and standing up to the bully-in-chief.

Women's March, D.C. Photographs by Lisa Levart

Women’s March on Washington
Photograph by Lisa Levart

This mammoth, tidal wave of energy surprises no one who knows his or her Goddess myths. For over a decade, I have worked on a project entitled Goddess on Earth. Through photography, I portray powerful female archetypes embodied in contemporary women. All kinds of women have participated: actors, writers and musicians; non-profit warriors, entrepreneurs, and CEOs. And they have interpreted formidable myths from around the world; Hindu Warrior Goddesses who slay demons and hold their bloody heads for all to see (Kali); Hawaiian Goddesses who spew fiery lava at a moment’s notice (Pele); and African Goddesses who whip up destructive storms to destroy the old and bring in the new (Oya), to name just a few.

Which brings me to Inanna, the Sumerian Goddess of the Heavens. In this ancient myth, Inanna descends into the bowels of the earth to visit her sister, Ereshkigal, the Queen of the underworld. On her journey, Inanna passes through seven gates, where she must disrobe and leave behind her royal jewels, until she is standing naked in front of her sister. She dies in the underworld kingdom and is left hanging from a hook on the wall, but after three days and three nights, Inanna is reborn and returns from the underworld. Spiritually transformed, she no longer fears death, and is truly empowered.

Leonore Tjia was 13 years old when I photographed her for Goddess on Earth as Mnemosyne, the Greek Goddess of Memory.

Mnemosyne Photographs by Lisa Levart

Mnemosyne (from the book Goddess on Earth)
Photograph by Lisa Levart

Now, a 27-year-old activist, she has grown into to a fierce and vivacious poet and sexuality educator, working with renowned sexual empowerment expert Amy Jo Goddard (author of Woman on Fire: 9 Elements to Wake Up Your Erotic Energy.) It was Leonore’s choice to portray Inanna, in our second photo session -14 years later.

About her Inanna portrait, Leonore wrote:

 As a sexuality educator my work involves helping people to step bravely towards what has long been considered taboo, dangerous or off-limits. So many people avoid working on their sexual issues out of fear of what they’ll find if they take the lid off the box. The ironic thing is that if you never do it, you will never have the pleasure, or power, or intimacy, or richness of life you desire.

The crux of Inanna’s story is that transformation does not come through peaceful meditation, but through violent confrontation with our buried shadow aspects. The Trump regime offers us this opportunity— the lid is off the box now when it comes to facing the American legacy of racism, classism and xenophobia. I also see it drawing out the shadowed aspects of liberalism and progressivism — mainstream feminism is being taken to task for excluding women of color, and it’s important for white feminists to face this and acknowledge the racism we all inherit from white supremacy. I hope all of us who are called to activist work in these times can feel inspired by the ferocious story of this goddess.

My life’s work is creating art that celebrates the feminine face of God. Through Goddess on Earth, I have come to truly honor the innate power, fortitude and fearsome drive of women. In my bones, I am confident we will survive this upside down, dark time because of the strength and determination of women. We, with our beloveds by our sides, will use everything we have – our creativity, passion and self-knowledge to burn hot- like boiling lava- until we have ascended – reborn and transformed- from this dark underworld we currently reside in.

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A Season for Gender Equality

For everything there is a season. In some parts of the world, Fall means bringing in the crops and returning to the abundance of the harvest. In urban cities across America, though, it’s time to attend conferences, workshops and symposiums! Last month, I even participated in two different NYC events in one day, the WIE Symposium (Women: Inspiration & Enterprise) and the Women’s Leadership Summit. Both conferences brought together dynamic women speakers that inspired the attendees to embrace their power and be forward-thinking leaders. While these goals were surely met, I heard another message as well: gender equality is stagnating.

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According to a recent study by the International Monetary Fund and the topic of an articlein Al Jazeera America, “gender equality around the globe has stalled in recent years, with women still holding fewer salaried jobs than men and receiving lower wages for their work.”

Why is gender parity so hard to achieve? The writer Tabby Biddle addressed this question in the United Nations Dispatch with her column “UN Leaders: Are You Thinking Enough About Gender Equality?” Tabby wrote: “As a global culture, so many of us have internalized the maleness of God, or Allah, or Buddha, that we have undervalued or dismissed our feminine nature… If we don’t nurture the fullness of life within us — the feminine and the masculine — this will stunt our growth not only as individual human beings, but also collectively as a global civilization“.

The belief that God is male has underscored human civilization for thousands of years, and we see evidence of that in the countless images of God the Father and in language that describes God as “He” and humankind as “Man.” I believe that as long as our society focuses primarily on male images of the divine, humanity’s imbalance will continue unresolved. This is why I am driven to create photographs of contemporary women portraying the Divine Feminine: to restore to public consciousness images of women in their power, diversity and undeniable embodiment of what is sacred.

While traveling in Morocco this past summer, I met Vanessa Bonnin, a journalist and photographer living in the ancient city of Fez. Although born in Australia, Vanessa has worked in Morocco for many years. For Goddess on Earth, she chose to embody the pre-Islamic earth Goddess Al-Lat. Known as “the Mother of the Gods,” Al-Lat represents the earth and its bountiful fruits. One of the three chief Goddesses of Mecca, her shrine and temple in the city of Taif was destroyed on the orders of Mohammad in 630 AD.

On choosing to portray Al-Lat, Vanessa wrote:

Living in Fes, the religious heart of Morocco, I see the daily evidence of female subjugation by men and Al-Lat is essentially the first female who was subjugated by Islam. I connect with her spirit on a number of levels, the primary one as an Earth Mother who represents fertility. I feel that being in tune with the earth — which gives birth to all that sustains us — is vital to life, well-being and our collective future.

2013-10-09-AlLat_3A.jpg

If we can all look at the Divine through both a feminine and masculine lens, contemporary women will be one step closer to reclaiming an internal sense of personal power, for indeed to everything there is a season: a time to plant, and a time to uproot what has been planted. In restoring the female vision to our modern conception of the sacred, I hope we can uproot from our collective consciousness the idea that access to the Divine only comes through masculine channels — and in doing so, we may plant the seeds of political, social, and spiritual equality for future generations.

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Rise Up With Terpsichore

Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright and activist, has issued a call to action. On February 14, women and men around the world will heed the call and dance to end violence against women. One billion people are expected to rise and move with passion, for in the world we live in today, one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.

In ancient Greece, it was believed that the pursuit of the humanities could bring us closer to the sacred. Dance, music, painting and literature, according to Greek mythology, were given to humankind by the nine Muses. The Goddess Terpsichore in particular brought us the love of dance.

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On a Malibu beach, with the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, Holly Irwin Bassuk embodied Terpsichore for Goddess on Earth. Speaking from her heart, she wrote: “Dancing is about saying the un-sayable – expressing what words cannot.”

Holly is right.

Words cannot express the horrific gang rape of a 21-year-old woman in a Delhi bus who later dies from her injuries. Words cannot express the outrageous gunning down of an 11-year-old girl in Pakistan for voicing her love of education. Words cannot express the inhuman sentence of death by stoning to a 23-year-old Sudanese woman for adultery.

As I photographed Holly dancing on the beach, I watched her strong form catch the sun’s refracted light and move with the power of the Pacific waves. Her form revealed an insight into the Muses from antiquity: that beauty, vitality and art are not trivial pursuits, but real alternatives to a world ridden with suffering and violence. So if words cannot express what is in our hearts, why not dance?

Friedrich Nietzsche said: “those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”. Well, I’m not crazy. I hear a drum pulsing in the distance and am going to rise in solidarity because it’s time to tell a new story, one more primal, emboldened, and energized. And when I watch others dancing on February 14th, I will see, like the ancient images of the Goddess, strength, power and indefatigable courage. As Eve wrote in her powerful new monologue “Rising” it will “not be a question of inventing/but remembering.”

To find and join an event go to: One Billion Rising

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A Reluctant Activist Gets Tutored By Gloria Feldt (and Lilith)

First and foremost, I think of myself as an artist rather than a political activist. But sometimes, when faced with the utter absurdity of the world in which we are living, the need to shout out loud and clear is forced upon even the most hesitant firebrand.

On June 13th, while protesting her state’s stringent anti-abortion proposals, Michigan Representative Lisa Brownsaid on the floor of the State House: “Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.'” The next day Ms. Brown was barred from speaking on the House floor. “What she said was offensive,” Representative Mike Callton said. “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

For anyone who grew up during the 1970s, this exchange evokes a sense of déjà vu: Haven’t we been through this already?! Hasn’t Eve Ensler’s play ‘The Vagina Monologues’ put the stigma of using the word “vagina” to bed, so to speak? My work with Goddess on Earth: Portraits of the Divine Feminineover the past 10 years has allowed me an inside look into the powerful world of women’s activism and accomplishments. But at times like these, I am reminded that we cannot take women’s rights for granted.

Read the rest of the blog on the Huffington Post

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