By Eleanor Bader
Sunday, February 19, 2006
A colorful mural of 90 female activists puts a splash of militant sass on the side of an otherwise drab wall in Brooklyn, N.Y. Produced by an all-female team of artists it leaves its chief creator dreaming of more public tributes to women.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. (WOMENSENEWS)--It is a cold, blustery Saturday and in the hours before a blizzard is set to begin, people in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn are moving quickly. Most carry heavy bags and seem to be rushed. But as they approach the corner of Greene and Nostrand avenues, they look up and for a fleeting instant, you can spot a smile.
What the harried walkers can't help noticing is "When Women Pursue Justice," a vibrant 3,300-square-foot mural that applauds 90 U.S. women.
Shirley Chisholm, the seven-term Congresswoman who represented the neighborhood from 1969 through 1983, is the star of the scene. The woman who ran for president in 1972 is shown riding a bright-orange horse and waving a banner that reads "A Catalyst for Change."
In this largely African American community, Chisholm's memory as an "unbossed and unbought" politician and fierce advocate for low and moderate-income people continues to inspire residents. The faces of other women are painted on a bright-red backdrop, adding a splash of militant sass to an otherwise dreary landscape.
Jane Weissman is administrator of the mural project.
"We didn't have a magic number we wanted to paint," says Weissman. "We came up with women we thought of as movement leaders, then we came up with ancestors, then we started naming contemporary activists. We asked for suggestions from everyone we knew and ended up with 90."
The mural includes Emma Goldman, the anarchist labor and birth control advocate who was deported to Russia in 1919. There's also Clara Lemlich, an organizer of Lower East Side garment workers in the early 20th century, and anti-slavery and women's rights activist Sojourner Truth. Others on the wall are drawn from more recent history and include Dorothy Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement in the 1930s, and poet Audre Lorde, poet and author of the famous dictum, "Your silence will not protect you."
Living women include Angela Davis, who emerged as a prominent activist in the 1960s and ran for vice president on the Communist ticket. There's also Dolores Huerta, leader of the United Farm Workers, and Amy Goodman, whose "Democracy Now!" program on Pacifica Radio has for a decade covered left-wing politics. There's also Gold Star Mother Cindy Sheehan, whose anti-Iraq war activism took center stage last summer when she created Camp Casey near Crawford, Texas.
The idea for "When Women Pursue Justice" came from artist Janet Braun-Reinitz and administrator Weissman. Colleagues since 1987, the pair met when Weissman was working at Project Green Thumb, a New York City group that encourages gardening and neighborhood beautification.
"We sent out a request for proposals to put murals and sculptures in some of the gardens," Weissman recalls. "Janet had been painting murals since the early 1980s. She applied and she got a grant to do one. Then, in the early 1990s she and I worked together on a mural project for kids." The pair is presently collaborating on a book about New York City murals that will be published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2007.