Women Seen: The Art of Empowerment

The Sacred Labyrinth Project We are asking help from the community to debut The Sacred Labyrinth for Art Basel December, 2017. The new work of Piyali will be accompanied by that of several artists for a women's civil rights and empowerment art installation, live painting, and social gala--street style. We need donations to bring this work to life in a dedicated space. We hope to raise awareness for women's and female-identified rights to safe self expression and embodiment.

We invite you to have a voice. We invite you to celebrate the bodies and voices of others.
Every body has a story.


THE PROJECT

The Sacred Labyrinth project is a photo series of 108 vaginas painted to be flowers/plants, animals, sociopolitical concepts, expressions of women’s struggle, depictions of  sexual violence, culture, humor, and natural embodiments of the universe.

The Project paints women of diverse sexual orientations, cultures, religions, professional backgrounds, ages, ethnicities and post-op transgendered women. While the art is photographed, participants anonymously share their experiences and stories of their bodies. A narration of their interviews is shared at the viewing. This work focuses on transforming the human from an extrinsically defined object to something more intrinsic and expressive. The narrative serves as a platform to welcome audiences to share and discuss their own experiences as women.

The Sacred Labyrinth creates therapeutic, inspirational art as both self-expression and a challenge to the viewers. The painted body becomes a liminal dwelling place, compelling the onlooker to ponder rather than look away.

Painter Piyali has been fortunate to work with various visual and performance artists to showcase her body-positive work. The Project aims to liberate without isolating the subject; the forum encourages all audiences to explore and understand our individual bodies together, rather than seeing the body as an isolated, objectified vessel. Her work is inclusive and features survivors of human trafficking, homelessness, and sexual violence. The Sacred Labyrinth seeks to replace patriarchal narratives of shame with an uncolonized, expressive feminine mystique.

As part of the Sacred Labyrinth, featured artists, including Mike Maka, Makatron, will be participating in a show during Miami’s Art Basel. Other artists are yet to be announced.

CONTEXT

This is not the 21st century we dreamed of. Listen to the voices silenced and bodies labeled good and bad. It is a critical time. We are experiencing a renewed political and cultural assault on the body—as women and more generally as people.  We remain systematically bullied, overwritten, and oppressed by a backward-looking wave of persecution. Without the safety to think and feel, none of us are safe. In modern America, we have regulated bathrooms, genitals, female reproduction, and patriotism. Identity is the property of populism. Television mainstreams  safe-zone stereotypes, but not rights. Women are punchlines. Minorities are punching bags. Difference is divisive.

The rise of a nationalism in the US is the rise of a more fundamentalist hatred. It is a hatred that limits who we are by telling us what bodies we need to be, to be "legitimately" human and equal. We, the other, the illegitimate bodies, are silenced. The elected leadership of the United States normalizes and empowers gender-based discrimination and elevates those who benefit from power imbalances. Compassion has been muted from justice and replaced by privilege. The Sacred Labyrinth is a project of reclaiming our voices and identities, one woman at a time.

GOALS

The aim of the Sacred Labyrinth Project is to help women heal, reclaim a sense of safety and ownership of our bodies, and reenvision who we are through the lens of art. The project promotes freedom of body and mind, creating  a safe space for women to speak of the varying degrees of acceptance experienced with their bio-sexual body under pressure of a society that dictates what that body should be. The Sacred Labyrinth project’s success exceeds aesthetics. It emerges from the visceral responses of subjects and audiences alike.

Too often, those who are not among the “good” bodies whose self-determination and value is unquestioned, instead internalize oppression in shame and self-scrutiny. Many of us do not feel safe to express who we are in our own bodies.  During the creative process, many subjects experience the catharsis of inspiration, healing, acceptance of one’s body, and the wonder of fascination. They also experience shame, discomfort, and trauma.

THE ARTIST’S STORY:  PIYALI

At 18 years old, newly returning to the United States from India, I lost my virginity to a vicious rape by a stalker who used a box cutter in a violent assault. I was cut and bruised on every sexual part of my body, physically hurt, and emotionally brutalized. Coming from a conservative Indian family, I was disowned and shamed for what happened. The criminal trial of the man who raped me further traumatized me.

Having experienced a childhood in India but being born in the US, I lived in contrasting experiences of female identity. From a nation where women are meant to abide by conservative customs, my family could not reconcile what had happened to me. Women and girls are meant to be pure. I faced incredible blame—blame that suffused to my body and the fear that I was dirty. I fought depression and shame. I hated being a woman. I feared men and what they wanted. I was afraid of my scars, of being seen.

My body has a timeline-- the scars of what happened writing into my body. And I was afraid of this body and its marks—both the ones I wear and the ones no one sees. It was a long journey of healing to celebrating the body that I felt severed from. As painful as it was to be in a new place, far away from my home in India, and raped, this marked the beginning of a revolution for me: to deeply explore the feminine body.

Through this project, I realized that most of us do not feel comfortable being seen. I now believe that while my story is not unique, what I can do with this experience is unique. By sharing my story, I hope to allow others to share their own.  I offer art as a space where individuals who identify as a female can express their stories of love, sex, pain, violence, gender-identity, birth, illness and humor.  

 
YOUR PART

To make this project happen, we need to raise money to pay for the art and event production. We have zero intention to profit. Labor is donated. But, we have costs. We aren't backed by corporations or lofty organizations. All funds go to amplifying the message within The Sacred Labyrinth. 

The Sacred Labyrinth Project is not made of one voice. Now more than ever, the body is dissent. It is joy. It is mystique that we can define for ourselves and wonder within. It is undetermined, a journey. And what it is to be in a culture where the female is self-defined and totally included, is yet to be experienced. We invite you to experience it with us.

We welcome the audience to experience the same, uncensored run of emotions--to be inspired or feel shame--and open a discourse. We hope that through this art, we learn to see the humanity and diversity within bodies, society, and within our lives.

PARTICIPATING ARTISTS

PIYALI
Piyali is a Bay Area painter who specializes in integrating body paint, photography and storytelling as a way to create awareness about the experience of the vulva.  Born in the United States to an Indian family, she spent 13 years in India. After founding a nonprofit, she travelled internationally as a muralist, painting pro-feminist murals to raise awareness of human trafficking.


Piyali has an academic background and professional career in criminology and policy writing. She has spoken at the UN on Women’s Rights. While dedicating several years to human trafficking awareness initiatives, Piyali met women who had experienced numerous forms of gender-based discrimination, commercial sexual exploitation, and violence. It was those women who have inspired her to share her story—and invite others to share their own through art.


MAKATRON
Mike Maka, AKA Makatron, is primarily a painter who works in a variety of media, mainly on walls, canvas and illustration on paper. He has travelled and created work around the world, painting the Berlin Wall to the River Ganges. At 20, he received a scholarship to study art in New York, which lead to travelling as a bike messenger for 10 years in 10 cities and leaving his mark on many walls.  An active member of Everfresh Studio since 2006, Mike has exhibited extensively through Australia as well as group shows in Brazil, Japan, Miami and New York. His works are featured  in private and public collections locally and abroad, including acquisitions by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, as well as institutions such as the National Gallery of Victoria and MONA Tasmania.

His artwork captures a world in which the natural forces fight back against humanity, reclaiming the earth from the uncaring advance of civilization. His themes invoke the feminine, mother, as a fiercely progenitive force fighting against social and environmental destruction. His images remind the viewer of the enduring power of creation as mother earth and her progeny emerge powerfully, asserting their impact over areas that are otherwise built, but neglected by urbanization. By giving color and aesthetic power in large scale to these themes, he employs those  forces to question what is  otherwise labelled progress and call attention to the underseen people and areas culled from “civil” society.

He is based in Melbourne, Australia, but has been known to wander in other dimensions.



 JULIA COMITA
Julia Comita is a native Californian living in the Big Apple. She has made a name for herself shooting powerful female subjects, as well as lensing beauty in a conceptual and innovative way. She is enjoying experimenting with 3-D and illustrated GIFs and is the co-creator of the video series "How To Be Beautiful.”

Her unique perspective, crisp light, and attention to detail have given her the opportunity to work with editorial and advertising clients such as Uniqlo, Covergirl, Pepsi, James Allen, Battington Lashes, Plastik, Nylon Japan, Vice, The Impression, and Satellite Journal to name a few.


SOPHIE SPINELLE
Sophie believes the complexity and power of glamour, and thinks rhinestones can be radical. She was educated at Sarah Lawrence College and Harvard University, and has studied many forms of art, including painting, theater, and music. In her first career, she worked for world change at a policy institute — but when she fell in love with photography and launched Shameless in 2009, she knew she’d found her calling. She feels blessed every day to do this work, and will stop at nothing to make sure that every person who comes to Shameless walks away feeling inspired and confident about who they are.



CAREY LYNN
Carey has been in love with photography for as long as she can remember. She received her BFA in photography from George Mason University and studied for her Master’s in Photography at the Academy of Art University. Before joining Shameless, a great deal of her photo work focused on women, femininity, and bringing awareness to issues like rape and body image. When she joined Shameless in 2011 she knew that she had found something special — a perfect combination of creating beautiful images of strong women communicating messages that could change the way our society perceives beauty. Most recently, Carey’s American Beauty photo series was featured in newspapers, blogs, and magazines across the globe.



BARRY TORANTO 
Photography intrigued me as a teenager, I attended my first workshop in 1973 at The Naples Mills School of Arts and Crafts near Ithaca, New York. My college career yielded a BA in photography from Goddard College in 1978 and included a semester at the San Francisco Art Institute.

My vision is to capture and express images that both embrace and reach beyond the here and now. Photography is an alchemical process – the subject is the raw material, the gold is an image that expresses universal truth beyond that subject, one that makes us think and remember, and ultimately, see the world in a new and different light.

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Organizer

Piyali Banerjie 
Organizer
Berkeley, CA
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