March is Women’s History Month, and Currents is celebrating with a shoutout to the women leading Bainbridge cultural organizations and the women who have inspired them.
First, a little history about paying tribute to women’s history. In 1980, a group of women in California formed the National Women’s History Project to broadcast the historical achievements of women that too often were overlooked in the versions of history promulgated over the centuries. The group led the lobbying effort to have Congress designate March as National Women’s History Month in 1987. Each year the organization announces a theme. This year’s is “Women providing healing, promoting hope.”
In addition to all the amazing women on the frontlines of healthcare that have offered us healing and hope throughout the pandemic, we at Currents thought of the women whose work provides healing and hope through engaging us in the arts and creativity.
We decided to ask the women making history today on Bainbridge Island as heads of cultural organizations to name a woman in the world of arts and culture who has inspired them. Here are their responses that highlight a wonderful range of phenomenal women. We’d also like to hear about the historic women in the arts that you admire. You can add your comments below.
I’d like to shine the spotlight on Lesya Ukrainka, one of Ukraine’s first female poets and playwrights of record. She began writing at a young age in response to tsarist oppression, wrote under a pseudonym when publications in her native language were outlawed, and became an outspoken feminist at a time when expressing opinions and observations like hers required extraordinary bravery. Encouraged by her mother, Lesya paved the way for generations of Ukrainian women to find their voices on and off stage. An unwavering activist committed to her country’s freedom, 151 years to the day (Feb. 25) after her birth, Lesya’s take on women and war is a salient now as when she retold Cassandra’s tragic tale in 1907 (translated by Sasha Dovzhyk):
Know not the price of women’s sacrifices,
But I will tell you: of all woman kind
Far-famed Iphigeneia did not make
The greatest and the hardest sacrifice.
So many harder sacrifices, though
Unfamed, are made by women who leave not
Even a name to them”
I hold Lesya Ukrainka and her countrywomen in light this month. May their sacrifices be known, remembered, and restored.
I’d say Miriam Makeba. I first remember my mom playing “Pata Pata.” I was so mesmerized by her voice and beauty, the infectious music, and my mom describing her courage and activism. Years later, I understood what a major influence she was, not just in civil and human rights but artistically. I could hear her influence on artists I loved like Ali Farke Touré and Baaba Maal.
My pick is Maya Angelou. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” influenced my life in countless ways, as did “I Rise,” and of course, “Phenomenal Woman.” I have recited the latter poem on countless occasions, and each time I get a deeper meaning of what it means to be a woman. She’s influenced me on the rigor it takes to write: she was known for writing at a nondescript room away from home at the same time each day. She’s impacted me with regard to getting things done: she said that even though she slept late the night before, she never used it as an excuse to claim tiredness and not have a full, productive day. She said each day was new, regardless of how late you slept, so seize it! She was a dancer, author, poet, philanthropist, and civil rights activist. But most precious, she was a woman phenomenally, and well, I am, and you are too!
A couple of names come to mind of women who found their own path and let it lead them undeterred to create powerful and unique bodies of work. I saw an exhibition of works by the late Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón (1967-1999) at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon in Eugene. During her short but fertile career, she produced an extraordinary body of work central to the history of contemporary printmaking in Cuba and abroad. Ayón mined the founding narrative of the Afro-Cuban all-male fraternal society called Abakuá Secret Society to create an independent and powerful visual iconography.
Another groundbreaking artist was Hilma af Klint. Paradoxically delicate and powerful, the art of Hilma af Klint quietly and privately delivers a loud and essential message. Creating abstract canvases five years prior to the first by Wassily Kandinsky, and experimenting with writing and drawing guided by the unconscious decades before the Surrealists, the woman was a pioneer. The two stand out in my mind for their strength and the uncompromising power of their individual visions.
Corinne Wolffe, Executive Director, Kids Discovery Museum
I want to give a shout out to my grandmother, Anne Marie. Finishing her BFA after retirement, she is still actively painting, sharing her work, and inspiring artists in her community as the youngest 94-year-old I will ever know.
Denise Dumouchel, Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network
I deeply admire the life and works of Donella (Dana) Meadows, because she enhanced scientific understanding of global systems by integrating culture, art, and humanity into her approach to systems thinking. Here is a quote from her article, “Dancing with Systems:” “Living successfully in a world of systems requires more of us than an ability to calculate. It requires our full humanity — our rationality, our ability to sort out truth from falsehood, our intuition, our compassion, our vision, and our morality.”
Brianna Kosowitz, Executive Director, Bainbridge Island Historical Museum
Joan Walters, Bainbridge Island Historical Museum board member, is a change maker, philanthropist, and dedicated volunteer. She leads by example and has had an immensely positive impact as Board President over the last several years as the Museum has not only survived, but also grown and evolved during the pandemic.
LINDA KRAMER JENNING is a veteran journalist who taught at Georgetown University and worked for national magazines before moving to Bainbridge Island in 2017. She currently is a regular contributor to PostAlley.org and is on the board of AHB. She will also be moderating a panel discussion on Courage in Journalism to be held on March 23, 2022.