If you are wondering why your Facebook feed has been flooded with black and white portrait images of women lately, then wonder no more.
We are here to break down everything you need to know about ‘Artemisia’ and the ‘Network of Young Women Leader
Why is it focused on women? Why were these 100 women in particular chosen? What is the objective of this exhibition?
We sat down with one of the founding members, Dr. Martina Caruana to answer all these questions and more.
Can you give us some background information about the Network of Young Women Leaders Malta?
The Network of Young Women Leaders (NYWL) was officially founded very recently, in March 2017. The NGO was established with the objectives to increase the participation of young women with a feminist approach in leadership positions, to raise awareness on the challenges that young women face in the process of achieving their aspirations to become established and recognized leaders, and to identify and advocate against the existing structural barriers that hinder the full participation of women in leadership positions. Moreover, it seeks to push forward, by various initiatives, inter-sectional feminism, by empowering marginalized females who have difficulty thriving due to ethnic, racial, sexual and/or social class reasons, inter alia.
What is your role within the NYWL?
I am one of the founding members of NYWL, and I’ve been active in its establishment since 2015. I am a law graduate and I currently work with the United Nations, advocating for human rights and the elimination of violence against women and girls. I also offer consultancy services to the European Women’s Lobby, in addition to being an entrepreneur mainly involved in investment schemes. Such investment schemes allow me to contribute towards humanitarian causes, funds for gender equality, inter alia. In fact, we have further plans for NYWL and beyond.
NYWL aims to show girls all the ways in which they can find success and fulfillment, despite the challenges and experiences women face to achieve their goals.
We have seen many different women in Malta posting a black and white photo of themselves with the hashtag #Artemisia. What is Artemisia and where did the name originate from?
‘Artemisia: 100 Remarkable Women’ is a project established to provide alternative and accessible role models for girls. By telling stories of women from all background and careers, NYWL aims to show girls all the ways in which they can find success and fulfillment, despite the challenges and experiences women face to achieve their goals.
The Network aims to create a variety of spaces to present these stories, including a book of the 100 amazing women and their stories written by myself, an online and social media presence, and an outreach programme for girls in schools, celebrating female role models who shape the world.
The project’s goals are, inter alia, to encourage young women to find their ambition and fulfil their potential, to tell a new set of positive women’s stories in order to drive real change, to create places to celebrate female ability, achievement, endeavor and diversity, and to show the importance of female ambition as a powerful and critical force.
The project was named after the Italian Baroque artist, Artemisia Gentileschi. Gentileschi’s personal story of overcoming rape and striving in a man’s world give audiences a way to approach, understand, and relate to her early works. Her works are also fascinating because they are what we stereotypically expect from a man from that period. The trauma as a rape victim impacted on her painting. Her graphic depictions were cathartic and symbolic attempts to deal with the physical and psychic pain. The heroines of her art, especially Judith, are powerful women exacting revenge on such male evildoers as the Assyrian general Holofernes.
As a feminist icon, we believed that each and every woman featured embodies Artemisia’s struggle and subsequent breakthrough. Each woman is a modern Artemisia in the way they have managed to thrive and persevere amidst structural and/or painful barriers set up by society.
This was in hope that all women and girls whose attention would be grasped by the project, would be inspired to go on, no matter what they’ve been through or come from, to fight for their dreams.
What were the criteria for choosing the final 100 women to be featured in the exhibition?
The criteria were threefold: resilience, leadership, diversity. Every woman featured embodied all three of these elements. By resilience, we wanted to bring into the light the struggles women come across in their professional and/or personal life – from domestic violence, gender-based crime, any type of prejudice, disability, inter alia. By leadership, we wanted to highlight the triumph of these women over their struggles. All the women featured are successful and leaders in their respective fields, whether they are mothers and domestic engineers, entrepreneurs, nuns, designers. All of them have turned their pain into success. We also searched for the diversity factor; women coming from all social classes, backgrounds, religious beliefs, ethnicities, cultures and sexualities. This was in hope that all women and girls whose attention would be grasped by the project, would be inspired to go on, no matter what they’ve been through or come from, to fight for their dreams.
What is the reason for having the portrait images in back and white taken?
Artistic directorship was in the hands of photographer Steven Levi Vella, who wanted to bring out the vulnerability yet power of each woman, and he successfully did so. The women were asked not to wear any makeup and to let every perceived flaw show. Needless to say, black and white creates uniformity amongst the women, highlighting that they are all equal despite their diversities. In addition, there is strength in simplicity – black and white strip the women down to their raw state.
Why the focus on women and not also including men who represent resilience, leadership and diversity?
From our research, it transpired that the role-model effect is vital to bring up ambitious, motivated and thriving girls. Despite this fact, we have a lack of female role models to look up to, and we usually tend to pick ones which are not local and for the absolute wrong reasons. We wanted to establish role models who are accessible and alternative to those ever present in popular culture. In addition, we aimed to thrash gender roles, picking women who thrive in male-dominated sectors such as mechanical engineering, policing and politics.
We gave their stories visibility, and through that, we aim to show other people who are struggling, that they are remarkable, no matter what position they hold.
Can you give us more details about the exhibition?
The objectives are as mentioned, to bring women stories and struggles into the light, and to generate this role-model effect.
The launch of the project took place on the 7th of August 2017 at Antoine de Paule Hall at San Anton Palace Attard, with an exhibition to follow at the same location between the 8th and 13th of August. That is only the first phase of the project. We intend to extend it further in the near future.
For the people out there who did not manage to attend the exhibition where can they see more of the women’s testimonials and images.
The launch and exhibition were only the first phase of the project, and people will most certainly be seeing more of it really soon. I cannot divulge such plans at this stage, but all I can say is, stay tuned!
Do you feel something like this could alienate women who may not be in the spotlight?
This is exactly what we are portraying. More than 50% of the women featured are people who are not popular or in the spotlight. Most of the names on our list are totally unfamiliar. We gave their stories visibility, and through that, we aim to show other people who are struggling, that they are remarkable, no matter what position they hold.
What comes next?
NYWL will undoubtedly continue to advocate its mission statement on several platforms. As I highlighted, Artemisia is an ongoing project and a commitment which NYWL has undertaken to give visibility to female struggle and triumph, and to create role models for future generations.
However, we also have a number of projects in the pipeline which I would suggest keeping an eye opened for.
What can readers do to become involved and help your cause?
For starters, they can become members by visiting our Facebook page and signing up. We hold regular meeting and brainstorming sessions where women can just feel free to mingle, discuss women’s issues, and express themselves in an area where they would be understood and aided, away from prejudice.