Celebrating Women’s Artistry

by Jenny Green

WAS FOUNDER AND WEST VILLAGER Heidi Russell introducing I AM exhibition vernissage. Photo courtesy of Heidi Russell

Women’s History Month in March was brought to life by West Village resident and founder of the International Women Artists’ Salon (IWAS) Heidi Russell, with two celebrations of women-identifying artistry from history and the here and now.

Opening for the first time, over at the Revelation Gallery, “I AM” served as “a cross-discipline and multimedia exhibition and showcase celebrating and honoring women-identifying creatives who grace the distinguished and dynamic 65+ realm.”

And over in the East Village, at the legendary Theatre 80 St Marks, IWAS presented its 12th annual “Salon sYmphoNY” on International Women’s Day, promoting the legacy of cultural riches created by women around the world and sustained today by international women artists living in the City of New York.

Tucked away on Waverly Place, in the gallery space of St. John’s in the Village and next to the Rattlestick Theater, “I AM” launched this inspiring season with its vernissage on March 7th with an exhibition of some 75 artworks, accompanied by dance, music performances and film screenings.

I AM EXHIBITION’ logo by Mar Nieves and Gloria Lee.

Artistic revelations

According to multi-disciplinary artist, psychotherapist and West Village nonagenarian Barbara Clark, “I see art as an unfolding of the deeper reality and a joyous exploration.” Barbara launched her first book of poetry during a retrospective solo exhibition of her paintings, via IWAS, at the Revelation Gallery last year and had two of her mixed media paintings on display this time.

More than 30 other women-identifying artists aged 65+ were delighted to share their wonderful work in this vital space, giving unique insights into a population the mainstream mass and social media so frequently neglects.

As veteran educator and feminist activist Andrea Freud admitted, “I went silent as a writer at the same time as I lost my real face and put on my generic old lady one.”

Participants were invited to share their ‘I AM’ word, to describe their artistry, creating a rich dictionary challenging ageist assumptions about our later lives—adjectives abounded, from ‘alive’ to ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, nouns niggled, from ‘crone’ to ‘paradox’ and verbs vamped, from ‘creating’ to ‘evolving’.

Another educator-artist Ruth Marinaro—a practiced marathon runner too—sadly passed away in February, but her marvelous collection of vibrant ceramics were included in “I AM” as her first public exhibit, in memoriam.

Creative modalities metabolize pain

AUTHOR IRENE SMALLS reading from her children’s book, Good Night Black Baby. All photos courtesy of Heidi Russell.

The three week exhibition was rounded out by a literature, theatre and comedy showcase on March 25th, hosted by award-winning poet Chocolate Waters.
There were vigorous performances from a glorious assembly of time-served artistic New Yorkers including Good Night Black Baby author Irene Smalls, actor-director Charmaine Broad and poet-musician-painter Janet Restino.

Arab-American literary activist, painter and tap dancer Kathryn Fazio shared some of her poetry, as well as having a painting in the exhibition (one of several women whose focus spans several disciplines). For her, “Lucky is the artist motivated to use creative modalities to help oneself and others metabolize pain.”

Whilst the array of talent at IWAS’ inaugural “I AM” celebrations was worth a million bucks, few of the creators are properly remunerated for their work, like so many undervalued artists in the increasingly expensive and overly-developed NYC.

But, as actor, playwright and novelist, Carol Hollenbeck proclaimed, “I may not be a success with a bank account, but I am successful for what counts, and that is I do like to write.”

And with organizations like IWAS, inspirational cheerleaders like Heidi Russell —along with her co-curator Pangia Macri—and oases of retreat in the West Village like the Revelation Gallery, there is yet hope for us all that we may nurture our artistic souls way past 65.

“I AM” forever!