There are four women in particular that have left an indelible impression on my mind. Carrie Mae Weems is African American and the work she has done portrays our history in ways that are disturbingly graphic but powerfully thought provoking. Aside from that, she tells stories of things that have impacted her personally through pictures and poems that depict a myriad of emotions that touch and stir the soul. The scope of her work is broad, multifaceted, uninhibited, intelligent, awe inspiring and exceptionally unique. All of it is beautiful.
The other three women are Caucasian and their work is different, but similar, in that each clearly state that their intention is to change the world and reinvent organizational systems. Dr. Maria Montessori may not be looked at as an artist but she was truly a visionary and she is responsible for starting Montessori schools—a philosophy of teaching children that changed the course of time. Her story has been on PBS recently and it’s one of determination and true grit.
I’m drawn to stories about people who have endured hardships and have experienced triumphs in spite of the extent of their difficulties. It’s probably the part of me that loves the Indomitable human spirit and appreciates inspiring moments. I love knowing the nitty-gritty details of artists personal lives because it makes their stories even more extraordinary. Perhaps you will be led to take a look at some of these women yourselves.
In spite of the odds, Dr. Montessori helped build schools all across the country in the UK, US, and beyond. She faced great odds in doing so that included having a child out of wedlock at a time when that was really unheard of, and she survived a nasty break up with the father that changed the direction of her life. She gave her son up for adoption but maintained contact with him and later in life he discovered she was his real mother and they became inseparable. He ultimately traveled with her and helped to promote her philosophy and continued along that path after she died. There is a lot that went on politically that impacted their lives that resulted in them being exiled in India for a number of years, and him being separated from her by the British government as a way of inflicting harm. Eventually they were rejoined and, at the age of 75, she was able to return to her native Italy where she restored the damage that had been done by war and rebuilt many more Montessori schools and ultimately trained more than a thousand teachers.
Corita Kent, another artist, recently had an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). I’d never heard of her but was curious because I had read something in the newspaper about the piece of art that the United Church of Christ had held in storage for many years. It turned out to be an amazing exhibit and I’m including a few photos that I took while there that tells you a little something about her life. They’re not pictures--they are words—but they convey the energy behind the artist. Kent was ousted from the Catholic Church due to the strong stand she took on social and political issues. Kent was quite fearless, just like the others mentioned above.
Lastly, and one whose name in the PBS series seems to be an adequate description for all four artists, is Dorothea Lange. Her life story has started airing on PBS and its titled “Grab a Hunk of Lightning”. I think that’s what they all did in some form or fashion--they grabbed a hunk of lightning by shining the light on the truth. In Lange’s case, she was a photographer during the depression and her photos changed the world and caused the government to take notice of horrid conditions that may have easily gone undetected since media coverage was slim to none.
Lange’s mission in life was to expose injustice through the lens of her camera. Like Montessori and Kent, she moved in circles that were extremely rare for women in her time period. I think she was judged because she had no problem in allowing her husband to be the nurturer for their children so that she could do her work. However, she endured a period of time where she had to sacrifice her work because he decided to leave home and pursue his work and left her to take care of the children. Eventually their marriage ended. She inherited several children from her second husband and they ended up putting them in a boarding school because it was what people did in order to survive the great depression but some probably judged her for that as well.
Due to some of the material being politically charged and extremely sensitive, Lange often found herself in great danger while photographing events. She couldn't expose her children to the traumatic conditions she encountered and the politically charged environments that she was recording. As daunting as it appeared, that did nott stop her even though the US government, at one point, tried to shut her down. The government was vehemently opposed to photos she took of Japanese being herded off to concentration camps and guarded her closely whenever she went near them.
So that’s my bit on courage and the impact that the lives of four courageous women are having on my life. I'm always on the lookout for empowering stories revealing strength, beauty, versatility, resilience, and courage especially within women. And when I can garner a glimpse of truth from stories that are uplifting and inspiring, it’s all good and cannot get any more sacred than that.