Who is art for? This is the question raised and confronted by the Women’s Mobile Museum, a mentorship program led by South African visual activist Zanele Muholi in partnership with the Philidelphia Photo Arts Center.
The WMM invited 10 underrepresented Philadelphia women to spend a year under the tutelage of Muholi, developing their photographic skills and making bodies of work with the kind of support that is so rarely lent to artists from outside the traditional identities found in museum collections. Throughout the program, the artists were provided mentorship and guidance in photography, video, museum studies, public speaking, and archive research. The artists used these tools to create bodies of work that assert their voices, stories, and their rights to claim equal stature on the mantle of art.
Here, we share the work from one of the artists in the program, Iris Maldonado.
Earthly (artist statement)
These images open a door to my inner self. They go a little deeper into what is for me self healing, self-acceptance, and self-love. The same consciousness that connects me to the universe, my ancestors, and my land, gives vibrancy to my soul. This evokes in me an exquisite parade of feelings, from loneliness to enlightenment. I am inspired by Frida Kahlo’s use of frames in her self portraiture, Felisa Rincón’s use of fans, the teachings of Buddhism, my love of botany, and my choice of healing through Reiki. My work reflects all the spiritual influences that affect my life. Missing my father and my grandparents, who taught me my love of plants and trees. The rose bushes that my grandmother cultivated in my childhood. Ferns that are hard to grow, but as gentle and delicate as I sometimes am. Coffee grounds that express my love for my homeland, and the sadness that I cannot be there. In making this work, I have envisioned and rediscovered myself with a new sense of freedom that I have never had before. Here I am being kind and generous to myself. I am unashamed to explore how I’m feeling and who I am. This feeling of belonging and being present is something that I have only been able to find through photography. This journey of hating my body and disliking my skin becomes a past experience. This series is about being born from there.
Iris Maldonado grew up in Farjardo, Puerto Rico. She graduated from Thomas A. Edison High School in Philadelphia. A single mother of three and grandmother of three beautiful children, Maldonado is a Reiki practitioner, poet, and photographer. She holds an associate degree in Human Services. Her passion for helping people motivates her work as a peer support coach. In her work, she helps people to be the best they can be and inspires them to not let their limitations separate them from their goals. Having discovered the medium at a young age, photography helps her to see things from a different perspective; she particularly enjoys how photographs can freeze time, feelings, and memories in one frame. Her photographs come, in her own words, ‘from the eyes of her soul’.
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