Thank you so much for agreeing to join in the NAWO sponsoredblog series ‘A Study in Gender’.
You have a wonderful range of images in your online shop. How did you get into art and what made you decide to start selling your pieces?
My mom says I was drawing before I was talking. I've always had that artist's thing of needing to get my thoughts out of my head and into a creation. As an adult, I originally went to art school for Illustration, though I eventually switched to and earned my bachelor's in Art History. I've been doing freelance work ever since, though it shares my time with being head teacher at an after-school arts and culture program.
I ended up opening a shop online at the insistence of my friends and family, actually. I think part of the artistic process is seeing all the faults in your work and so it’s hard to think other people will see value in it. It’s what pushes us to improve. But my friends were convinced I could sell some of the things I make and I eventually caved. It has encouraged me in a lot of ways and I’m glad I did it now.
Given the focus of this blog series on gender, I would love to know more about your Princess images (seen throughout ). What inspired you to draw the Princesses in this way?
When discussing the relevance of a piece of art, so much time is dedicated to what images are trying to express. What can we learn about a culture by what they CREATED, what images were popular and prevalent? How did their morals influence these images? And more interestingly, How did this art influence the viewer?
In the recent years, there's been a big push to define, or redefine, what it means to be female in today's society. The Women's March on Washington D.C. was certainly a response to that conversation, and such a loud statement was difficult to ignore. Women coming together from all backgrounds to say "we are HERE and we MATTER". I wanted to hold onto that message when it's often easier to feel like you can't make a difference no matter what you do. These are uncertain times, to be sure. But the women's march to me symbolized a refusal to go quietly, and a refusal to let OTHERS go quietly either, and that was very important to me. I needed to see it at the time, to remind me that I'm not the only one trying to understand what we can do next.
As for the Disney element, I felt that it reflected a time when life was simpler. When I could escape to fantasy worlds and ignore my problems. There's a hopefulness is children's media that's often missing from our adult lives. I was lucky enough to grow up right when Disney was returning to feature length animated films. So I was a mermaid all summer, running through hidden pine trails and pulling up the corners on every carpet to make it fly. Of course my Disney education was complete with the older movies as well and I'm not sure there's a sing along tape out there that I haven't listened to.
"These steadfast, kind-hearted, boldly dreaming women were my idols as a kid, and I continue to be inspired and influenced by them in my adulthood."
When I set out to make this series, that admiration was definitely on my mind. I wanted these women to be re-cast as the heroines I need as an adult, just like I needed them as a kid. Seeing them fight for goodness and their own truth, just like they do in their own narratives. I wanted this series to show you can be strong in real life too, not just in incredible circumstances. It's not a fantasy to be a brave, fierce, and beautiful princess in reality.
For so many children, Disney movies are an early indicator of what being a woman will mean; what it will look like, what you can do, what you SHOULD do, what's considered praiseworthy and heroic. Sometimes this leaves the movies open to ridicule for the messages they send. And certainly the older movies have begun to show their age and the shifting of our social mores and expectations. However, I feel that Disney has been making a push lately to address some of those issues and to change the focus of these womens' stories. This is perhaps most obvious in their remake of Cinderella into a live action movie. While the animated version is often criticized for the lead role being a "damsel in distress", the live action remake allows her to take a more active role in her own story. Being generous and kind in the face of abuse and struggle maybe isn't the daring heroics of crossing the ocean or fighting bears, but I believe that these messages still have great value and a quiet strength and should be given their due! And I find it increasingly interesting that that is the way our media is beginning to shape itself. If you want to raise children to have these values, you must introduce them when they are young. I wanted to highlight that these influential, feminine and iconic princesses have a strength that is relevant and important to our modern issues. I believe that these princesses as young women in 2017, would have a lot to say.
What lessons would you like your audience to take from your Princess series?
I hope that people will take away a message of support. Whether you are off to work or having to dig deeper, you are supported. For so many people, there's that ONE princess that they relate to. I want them to see that the other princesses are out there too. I'm out there. You're not in this alone. But also that believing in equality can be as simple as liking different kinds of disney movies. And that our differences make us better.
How do you think art can be used to provide a unique insight into gender and act as a tool for female empowerment?
Some people are Snow Whites, softly surviving and some people are Mulans, boldly fighting. Those are both great. And those are both wonderful feminist women. I think often the resistance to the “feminism” movement is this falsely spread idea that it just wants to cause a switch of power, or otherwise tell women that they have to abandon their traditional roles. That it’s about anger and bitterness. Worse, it’s for women who can’t fit into traditional roles so they have no choice but to reject their femininity. I don’t find this to be true at all.
"These movements are about freedom of choice; which means it's okay if your choice is different than mine."
Using my two examples above, I can explain further.
Snow White is a girl who life is nearly stolen from her out of jealousy from another woman. If society didn’t tell women that their worth is tied into their looks, perhaps the narrative between the princess and the Queen would have played out very differently. Perhaps she could have been valued for her kind heart, generosity or her admirable ability to stay positive in terrible conditions? Wouldn’t she benefit from equality without having to give up her love for making pies and keeping a tidy home?
Certainly Mulan benefits from being a modern film, where Snow White’s social codes are older. Mulan’s entire character arc starts and ends with failing to conform to societal expectations of how she act, look and what role she plays within her family and country. And it doesn’t resolve until her peers see her as a person, a woman capable of great things, as her honest self instead of hiding behind a mask of “traditionally feminine” or “traditionally male”. She likes having flowers in her hair, but she also likes speaking her mind and fighting bad guys.
When young people can admire these different stories and can SEE THEMSELVES, it validates that choice is something they can demand and make for themselves. They can be tough and gritty and demand to shoot archery and still go home and have a tea party and that’s okay. Boys need these lessons just as much. Not just that their female peers can make these choices but they can as well. That’s true equality.
It is certainly no coincidence that the last three women in my series were women of color. The representation for non-white stories was, to be put politely, not a priority for american media until recently and still have a long way to go. Feminism must be intersectional. It does our souls no good to change the status quo from suppressing one group and not another. Or worse, increasing that pressure on the already marginalized. If Cinderella works hard and gets what she wants, then Tiana needs to be able to do that too.
So I hope my series is contributing to that trajectory of diversity within the movement. And not just embracing it, but CELEBRATING it. Seeing these icons of feminine poise and kicking butt is what we need because if you can see it, you can be it. My Grandfather always used to say, in an effort to encourage more effort “if you can touch it, you can catch it”. He was talking about sports at first, but soon enough the metaphor integrated into their whole lives.
"I can touch inspiring others to be unapologetically themselves. I want to catch it and pass it around."
I wanted to show that being feminist, opinionated and fighting for your right to freely exist doesn't have to be something that's inherently about hate or ugliness or disavowing everything you've ever known. Being strong when you are being told you are weak is a form of protest. Being yourself when you are being told that isn't acceptable is a form of protest. Never giving up hope is a form of protest. I wanted to show that we can control the narrative. They can't order me to stop dreaming.
You have stated on your Facebook page that you believe the princesses would have joined in the women’s march. How important do you think fictional characters are to promoting female empowerment?
It is VERY important to me. I tried to not make any SPECIFIC statements and let people make their own conclusions about what their signs and dress might mean. That being said, placing them in the Women's March or protesting setting at all is a pretty serious statement all on it's own. Whatever their other political leanings, I know that these women would have injustices in their lives that they would experience, see, and desperately want to change. So many of their stories are about survivorhood. They would be out there, making sure that others didn’t suffer the way they did. They are strong and caring; how could they not want to protect others?
What would you like to see from a future Disney princess?
They are trying to go in the right direction lately, whatever their missteps have been. Moana is brave and strong, but still human and learning what she can do. Merida’s independence is contrasted beautifully with her mother’s desire to keep her safe and cared for. Elsa is full of grace and self-doubt and finds her strength in letting others love her as herself. None of these stories feature a romance as the saving grace, even though love plays a central theme. Exploring life as more than a struggle before you find love and are magically saved and happy is perfect and all I want. I would love for the source material to continue to expand beyond European traditions. There’s plenty of stories that have extremely similar counterparts from other cultures. There’s a Indian Rapunzel named Nicolette! I love Tangled, but that visually would have been stunning!