The power of Wisconsin women, art, and social change
Photos by Megan Monday
FROM HERE TO HER | Milwaukee, WI
FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective is a group of women in Milwaukee who come together to share and show their work. Each year, the Collective chooses a theme on which to center their show. Co-curators Katie Mullen and Rosana Lazcano said this year's theme, "Mothers of Our Nations," was intended to focus on women who were at the forefront of social change. The 16 artists in the Collective were paired with women-run organizations to create a response piece.
"I grew up on the Southside of Milwaukee, one of 11 kids. I was the first of my family to go to college, which is something that almost didn’t happen because it just wasn't something I would have ever considered.
I think I was always creative, but no one nurtured that in me or ever said, 'Hey, you're an artist,' until my high school art teacher. She took me aside one day and told me, 'You're good.' and she mentored me. She made me do a portfolio for a scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). I didn't take her very seriously. I mean, I had my pieces, but I wasn’t ready for the deadline. On the day it was due she was like, 'What, are you crazy?' She made me skip school, pull everything together and go to UWM to drop off my portfolio right before the deadline at noon. If it wasn't for that I wouldn't have gotten a scholarship to UWM. If it wasn't for her, I would've never gone to college.
After graduation, I was a graphic designer for nine years, but I never really viewed myself as a fine artist, or, like, a legitimate artist, until I met Katie. She invited me to participate in an art show. She and the other women in that show really helped me to be more confident in my art and take myself seriously. It was such an amazing experience for all of us that the artists from that show decided to form FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective.
I think in the beginning, my participation in the Collective was about building my own confidence. Now, I am an artist. It feels like I’ve worked on me and grown a lot, so now I'm gonna help somebody else work on them and lift them up, too. That's what the Collective is really all about, women empowering other women. There's no drama. It's just love. Everybody involved is here for everybody else.”
-Rosana Lazcano, artist and co-curator | FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective | Milwaukee, WI
"'Mothers of our Nations' is the FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective's fourth art show. Every year we pick a theme together inspired by what is going on around us in our culture. This year we couldn’t ignore the fact that we were seeing all of these women at the forefront of social change.
The title, 'Mothers of Our Nations,' came directly from a Winona LaDuke quote. She was talking about women’s natural inclination to care about the collective dignity and about the health and well-being of everyone around them. She spoke about how that can naturally lead us to work for change. That really stuck with us.
For 'Mothers of our Nations,' our 16 visual artists and poets paired with women-led groups working to improve the world around them. The groups are working on issues ranging from the environmental justice to human trafficking, from inmate reentry to equity in the STEM fields. Knowing that this work is often done without thanks or praise, the project is also meant to serve as a loud, long cheer for them—a standing ovation."
-Katie Mullen, artist and co-curator | FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective | Milwaukee, WI
“I wanted to focus on the rising generation of women that will be running this planet. There's an organization called Crafting Resilient Girls that runs out of Alice's Garden and Body and Soul Healing Arts Studio in Milwaukee, and I wanted to work with that group.
We had a large group of girls come out to participate. They ranged from five to 16 years old. When we started talking about defining 'girls,' their faces lit up. They were so excited. That's not a question that you're asked ever—what does it mean to be a girl? What are some words that you think of when you hear the word girl? Every word on the canvas is a word that they came up with. Girls are sweet and sassy, girls are cool, picky, determined, beautiful, intelligent, smart, and goofy, all of these words.
Some of the girls who worked on the project are really shy around people or speaking in a group, but when they wrote, they filled up entire sheets of paper with their ideas. Creating that space to be safe as a girl, and really express what that means, I think it was important. Because sometimes we don't speak and we let others' words creep in and affect how we feel about ourselves. I just wanted to create an opportunity for them to really define who they are right now. Right now, they don't have a limit, there's no cap, and there shouldn't ever be.
While working on this, I often thought, 'What was I telling myself at ten years old? How did I define myself? What did I have to draw on outside of my house, from the media, from my interactions?' There wasn't much out there for encouragement or identity as a young black girl. This art piece gives girls who participated that memory, that flashback, that moment when they felt empowered. Hopefully, they carry that experience with them for a long time."
-Tiffany Miller, artist | FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective | Milwaukee, WI
Tazia: "For my collaboration, I chose to work with Women of Wisconsin Strengthening Astronomy, or WOWSA. Great acronym, right?
As an artist, I was really interested in the question, 'How does it feel to be at the forefront of pioneering space?' So I connected with the Department of Astronomy at UW-Madison and got connected to the WOWSA women. The thing that I found most inspiring about these scientists is that they get to see these incredible, awe-inspiring elements of the universe before anyone else. They are literally seeing things that other human beings have never seen."
Audra: "It takes lots of people and lots of resources to build a telescope, but then we get to gather data and learn something about the universe. To be part of that initiative is very rewarding. How inspiring it is to be peering into the universe and learning about something that we've never seen before! It gives you a sense that really anything is possible."
Tazia: "I was also amazed by how hard all of these women worked to get to where they are. I really wanted this artwork to help shine a light on the efforts these scientists are making to support and encourage aspiring young women and under-represented people in STEM fields to pursue their careers."
Audra: "When I was young, I thought physics was just really cool. I was there for my love of the subject, but when you get into the field, you have these challenges of people questioning whether or not you can do this. It is very isolating. I was one of only three women in my major in college. Now that I am a professional, I want women in astronomy to not have that sense of feeling alone. I want them to feel they are contenders, too, and that they can do it."
-Tazia Lemay | FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective | Milwaukee, WI
-Audra Hernandez | UW-Madison Astronomy Department | Madison, WI
"I've been doing art since I was little. My dad is an artist and I learned from him.
I chose Milwaukee Water Commons for my collaboration. They place water at the heart of what unifies us. They're making partnerships with religious and indigenous communities, governmental communities, the scientific community, educational community, and engaged individuals throughout the city. They also reach into the urban communities of color. They recognize that decisions about the care and use of our waters must involve all of us. So the painting speaks about that and shows the diverse groups that they work with.”
-Tia Chianti Richardson, artist | FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective | Milwaukee, WI
Nova: "When I was young, I had a big crush on Leonardo Da Vinci. I thought there would be nothing better on this Earth than to make paintings like that. They were very spiritual, not of this world, and they just transported me. I wanted to grow up to be the best painter I could be.
Later, when I was a mom, I had to come to terms with my background and my kid's background with sexual assault. It took a big chunk of my life to deal with those issues, and it affected my self-esteem so much that I didn't feel that I was deserving of being an artist. I worked hard—I painted all the time, but I did it in hiding. And externally I focused on doing stuff that could make money to support my kids. I didn’t feel justified to be an artist until I was in my 50s. The place I found to help me process the assault was called The Healing Center."
Erin: "The Healing Center is where to go to get intense therapy specifically geared towards sexual trauma. It’s an entire holistic approach to get help with your emotional needs, your physical needs, your spiritual needs. They have resources that will help you with every aspect of your healing journey. There's group therapy, one-on-one therapy, art therapy, gardens, and it's all at no cost. You can really just focus on your healing. There’s only one place like it in the country—but I found it just when I needed it, and it was just blocks from my house."
Nova: "I chose to honor The Healing Center with this artwork. The center helped connect me with seven other women, and we all painted together."
Greta: "Getting together to work on these paintings with Nova was a profound experience. It was an opportunity not just for painting, but for sharing and processing. We were women all in different phases of healing, so to be able to encourage each other is really important. We painted together on Mondays, so anytime Monday was close it was like, ‘ Okay, I'm going to be able to exhale in T-minus three days, two days, one day…"
Nova: "Originally we didn’t know that we were going to get to do two paintings together. For the first painting, we came up with The Woman in the Water. I put in the figure, and then they took over and added all the outside, and everything on it was full of symbolism."
Erin: "That first painting was more...there were a lot more demons, I think, in that one."
Greta: "Yes, that one focused symbolically on stress and survival. To me, the figure was in the sea, not quite drowning…somehow surviving, yet you're surrounded by constant assault."
Nova: "After that first painting, our grant was renewed and we were able to do a second painting together."
Greta: "It was amazing that we got a chance to do the second one, because we actually processed a lot together, and so the second painting ended up being less about just surviving, and more about thriving. It has imagery connected to hope, rebirth...it's a much more lush and welcoming environment, aesthetically. It's not an environment that is based only on threat. You can see that the women in this painting have hope."
-Nova, Erin, Greta, and Mariah | FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective | The Healing Center | Milwaukee, WI
“When I was growing up, I always had a sketchbook and was always wanting to be by myself and just draw for hours. I remember getting in trouble in kindergarten for drawing in the borders around my paper. During a test, I would just draw all over it. I found drawing to be very comforting. Now I am an analyst, so I do a lot of overtime and long hours, but whenever I can get a chance to get home and get to my desk, I do a lot of drawing to unwind.
I love to illustrate and create characters, and making paper dolls emerged from that. I chose PEARLS for Teen Girls for my collaboration. It is an organization that works with girls from within the Milwaukee community and provides a support system for them.
The organization is all women and you can tell the passion they have for what they do, for the girls, and for each other. It's just a really nurturing environment. The girls have all of this potential, but sometimes they need a little bit of push. Sometimes they need to know that they're not alone, that they're not going to have to worry about doing this on their own. They uplift the girls, reassure them and prepare them to be independent. They also offer a safe haven that the girls can always lean on. A lot of the girls, even after they graduate, come back and help out.
The staff are not looking for any kind of reward. They don't get much recognition for what they do. So I wanted to celebrate them by making a doll of each staff member. I started with pictures of everyone and had them answer questions describing themselves. Everyone also gave me a sense for their fashion sense, favorite colors, hair, accessories, etc. After I gathered all the information I created each doll.
When you think of dolls, you think of something you could put on display, so I wanted to turn them into dolls also because I wanted us all to recognize what they are doing for these girls and for the greater community.”
-Kierston Ghaznavi, artist | FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective | Milwaukee, WI
“I had a conversation with a friend years ago, when she was working to help teenage moms find resources. During that conversation, she asked me how art helps people. She wasn’t convinced it could help anyone. That really struck a chord with me, because it made me think a lot about the role art plays in helping others. My friend now works for the Center for Self-Sufficiency. I chose that organization for this collaboration because I wanted to be able to show her, ‘Look, this is what art does.’ This is the power that it has. We may not be out there doing the work that you're doing, but we're gonna help you if we can, and we can bring attention to what you do.
The Center for Self-Sufficiency helps mostly men with their transition out of prison. I set up a date to meet my friend and visit the prison that she goes to every Thursday. I was very nervous, only because I really had no idea what to expect. We sat and talked to a man who was really respectful, kind, and smart. We talked to him for a while and he just gave me so much hope for what he was gonna do next with his life. It made me really appreciate the work that my friend does and the trust and connections that she builds.
At one of the meetings I had with the staff at the Center, I asked them what they envisioned for our collaboration. I said, ‘This piece is about you and the work that you do.’ I had them throw ideas out at me, and one of the things they said was crossing bridges, building bridges, helping people get through it all. We're just there to help you and to give you the tools. They also talked about breaking chains.
I took all of those words that they gave me and tried to visualize it for them, and I hope they love it. I think my friend and I understand each other’s work and impact a little better now, too.”
-Rosana Lazcano, artist and co-curator | FROM HERE TO HER Artist Collective | Milwaukee, WI