Documentary empowers women artists |

Documentary empowers women artists

“Art … is about being human, our search for why we’re here,” says Maye Torres, one of the artists and mothers featured in the documentary, “Who Does She Think She Is?”

Torres tried to stop painting, sculpting and expressing because she felt pressured to serve her family 100 percent of the time, but she was miserable. So, she began creating at night, sleeping only three to four hours. In the end, she ended up getting a divorce and battling in courts to prove she was a fit mother, despite the fact that she was an artist. When she realized society didn’t support what she was doing, she got “so pissed,” she did it even better, so people couldn’t doubt her anymore. Today, she balances her artwork with raising her sons, who respect their mom for following her passion.

“Who Does She Think She Is?” is an award-winning documentary, which follows five women artists – and mothers – through their journey to remain true to their artistic nature while nurturing their families. As the stories unfold, viewers see the struggle, the sacrifices and the triumphs. Some relationships end in divorce and recovery. One ends with the artist channeling her creative energy in an entirely different way. One involves traveling to Chicago with the entire family to be present at her show.

Director Pamela Tanner Boll, who co-executive produced the Academy award-winning documentary, “Born into Brothels,” found inspiration in Torres’ story.

“I was back at the crossroads,” Boll writes in her director’s statement. “My boys were nearly grown – launched, beautiful. But, I had no book or gallery representation to show for 20 years of making art in the cracks of my caregiving. I felt empty.”

When she met Torres, she found the beginning of her film, a journey to seek out contemporary artists who “provoke and inspire all of us to demand more from our work, our creativity and our lives.”

The film interweaves disturbing statistics about women’s roles in the world of professional art. Nationwide, 52 percent of professional trained artists and art historians are female. Yet, 98 percent of art the National Gallery of Art showcases has been created by males. At the National Portrait Gallery, that number is 93 percent, and at Hirshhorn Museum, it’s 95 percent. When looking at race, the number of white artists represented ranges from 94-99 percent. As far as writers go, nine out of 52 winners of the National Book Award for Fiction are women, and 11 of the 48 Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction are women.

Though the documentary strongly underlines these facts and includes the Gorilla Girls, who banded together in 1985 in response to sexism in the arts, it doesn’t bash men. In fact, it features the voices of men who have acted as mentors, as well as author Leonard Shlain, who asserts, “If you have the urge to be creative, then it’s imperative that you express it.”

And that’s the main message and purpose of the movie: to empower women, especially those with families, to follow their hearts, follow their muses, birth their creations and bring them out, into the world.

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