That moment of dismay sparked a conversation between Valeri and artists Alia El-Bermani and Diane Feissel. They knew that change was needed, and it was time for action.
"[The movement] originally started as a blog. We looked for women, female artists painting the female figure in a respectful way — beyond the male gaze," says El-Bermani. Their blog, womenpaintingwomen.blogspot.com, had a simple but winning formula: post the image, title and details of a work and link back to the artist's website.
"We [now] have nearly 500 artists on the blog. We had no idea; we created it for ourselves but because it was a blog it was public and became very popular," says El-Bermani. "We started in March 2009 and by that winter we were being offered an exhibition at Robert Lange Studios in Charleston."
The traveling museum exhibition, "Women Painting Women: In Earnest," is curated by El-Bermani and Feissel and features works by 30 artists from the United States as well as Poland, Spain and Italy. Its next stop is in College Station at Texas A&M University's J. Wayne Stark Galleries.
All of the paintings contain a narrative. There's a self-portrait by Philadelphia artist Rachel Constantine: She is poised at the easel, paintbrushes in hand, and in the background is a nude man, perhaps spent after a night of lovemaking; the power is all hers.
For the viewers, several of whom will be college-age women still forming ideas of self-worth, it's an important exhibition in that the subjects demonstrate both imperfection and strength. "They have such a great women's studies program as well," says El-Bermani. "There's a lot of collaboration; it's not just art majors or art history majors. And [the exhibit] is open to the public and it's free."
The painters, also, have benefited from the movement since that first blog post in 2009. "After that first exhibition I coordinated a weeklong painting retreat in Charleston. One of the artists told me later that she was literally applying for food stamps," says El-Bermani. "If you look at her career now she has sold out exhibitions and galleries across the country. It's so phenomenal to be a part of that turnaround."
"Women Painting Women: In Earnest" is coming to the J. Wayne Stark Galleries, Texas A & M University, Memorial Student Center, 4229 TAMU, College Station, open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. October 19 through December 16. For information, call 979-845-8501 or visit uart.tamu.edu/women-painting-women-in-earnest. Free.
Noon to 3 p.m. October 18, painting demonstration with live model, Wright Gallery, College of Architecture
10 to 11 a.m. October 19, panel discussion, Wright Gallery, College of Architecture
5:30 to 7:30 p.m. October 19, opening reception, Stark Gallery