We’re continuing our spotlight on exceptional women during Women’s History Month, so today allow us to introduce a few bold women who are forces in the arts. Adding to the fabric of our culture, these women used their talent to speak volumes about society during their time — and we would do well to listen (and watch and read and learn).
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. She dedicated her life and creativity to confronting injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Exploring female identity and life as a black lesbian, she wrote during the height Civil Rights movement, and is, perhaps, best known for her "theory of difference," which we refer to as "intersectionality" today. Lorde famously and so accurately observed, "It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."
Mary Pickford (1892-1979), born Gladys Smith, was a film industry darling who became Hollywood’s most powerful woman of her day. She was a founder of the Motion Picture Academy, and leveraged her power as a star to launch her own projects as producer, studio head and actress – and by many accounts, she negotiated her influence with a savvy grace, including her many philanthropic efforts. In her heyday she was called America’s sweetheart, but her resolve to be true to herself and do the right thing will be remembered alongside her talent. She reminds us: “The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.”
Gloria Watkins (born 1952) is a writer, feminist activist, and cultural critic. You may recognize her by her pen name, bell hooks (which is intentionally lowercase, as she prefers, to shift the attention from her identity to her ideas). Her most famous treaty was published in 1981, “Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism.” To date, hooks has published more than thirty books, including four children’s books, exploring topics of gender, race, class, spirituality, and their various intersections, and founded the bell hooks Institute. Her words resonate, then and now: “On one hand it’s amazing how much sexist thinking has been challenged and has changed. And it’s equally troubling that with all these revolutions in thought and action, patriarchal thinking remains intact.”
Annie Leibovitz (born 1949) is considered one of America’s best portrait photographers. In 1972, Leibovitz joined Rolling Stone as chief photographer where she spent the better part of a decade capturing culture from behind her lens, and from there she moved onto Vanity Fair in 1983 as the magazine’s first contributing photographer. She served as the official photographer for the Rolling Stones’ 1975 world tour; she was responsible for the iconic photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono (taken hours before Lennon was shot and killed); she captured President Nixon’s last day in office and Demi Moore cradling her nude pregnant belly; and among countless other portrait photographs, she also shot an abstract series: Abraham Lincoln's leather gloves, Virginia Wolf's writing table, and Emily Dickinson's house. Of her work she says, “Sometimes I enjoy just photographing the surface because I think it can be as revealing as going to the heart of the matter.”
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) is considered the first American Impressionist painter, chiefly interested in figure compositions and especially known for her mother-child paintings. Born in Pennsylvania she spent her early years in France and Germany with her family — and in 1865 committed to staying and studying the great masters of art in Paris. By 1877 Edgar Degas invited her to join the group of independent artists later known as the Impressionists. The only American officially associated with the group, Cassatt exhibited in four of their eight exhibitions from 1879 to 1886. She also embraced her role as an advisor to art collectors in the U.S., which benefited many public and private collections. In her later years she aided the women’s suffrage movement and other humanitarian causes. Encompassing her life spent creating, Cassatt said, “I think that if you shake the tree, you ought to be around when the fruit falls to pick it up.”