Of Women, By Women

Written by Vittoria Benzine

Art by @shirone // Photo provided by artist

Thursday, December 12th marks the beginning of Wendy Horwitz’s potentially ephemeral curating career, with the opening of “Of Women, By Women” at The Storefront Project. Horwitz, of relative Instagram fame for her documentation of NYC’s street art scene under the handle @love.from.nyc, told me this is the first show she’s ever curated, and it might be her last.


“Who knows?” Horwitz laughed. “This show happens to be a passion project. It wasn’t even my idea. A year and a half ago, in the summertime, a friend planted the seed and said ‘wouldn’t it be cool if there was an all-woman art show, all woman street artists?’”


Her friend remarked, “if anyone could do it, Wendy, you could,” citing her connections within the community. She let the idea pass without consideration. “It wasn’t until I was really bored at work,” that she said, “let me start combing through my Instagram and putting together a list of female street artists to see if this really could happen.” Using her own archives, Horwitz created a Word document of every female artist she’d seen on the streets, regardless of their medium. Her list totaled 117 artists.


Art by @0h10m1kehttps://www.instagram.com/0h10m1ke/ // Photo by @love.from.nyc


Horwitz asked herself, “who’s top notch artists who could actually be in a gallery show?” She also looked for artists based in New York. As she fine-tuned her list, commonalities began to shake out.


“This theme emerged. I’ve got my top 25, and every picture that I’m looking at in my deck were images of women… I didn’t look for a theme. It sort of emerged to me. All of the sudden it became obvious: all these women make art in the image of women.”


Thus, “Of Women, By Women” was born. Horwitz secured every one of her final picks. The artists I spoke to unanimously agreed that the newfound curator’s spectacular passion inspired their decision to participate.


Dee Dee told me, “I like to support people who are trying to create something, so I was happy to be a part of her first curated show.”


Art by @deedeewashere // Photo provided by artist


“I like Wendy’s energy,” Shiro explained. “She had so much love for art and now she’s collecting female artists. I like supporting female artists.”


“[Wendy] has a great vibe to her,” said Jilly Ballistic. “You can see the positivity, and there’s a real joy and a real love for the show.”


Horwitz draws her zest for the project from its complex purpose. When I asked why she thought an all-female show was necessary, she replied, “like most things in life and in street art, the men dominate. Even though the women are there, the spotlight isn’t on them.”


I asked Shiro if she felt being a woman influenced her work. She replied, “I think so. Since I was a kid, I was always playing with boys.” The artist practiced judo through high school. From that, she said, “I was pretty much used to working in a men-dominated scene.” This experience taught her that some people think women are inferior to men. “I don’t know why,” Shiro said. “I want to show them what we can do, what girls can do. That’s my challenge.”


Art by @shiro_one // Photo provided by artist


Tacit, false assumptions of female inferiority have lingered throughout Shiro’s art career. She recalled, “in graffiti festivals, people think I’m somebody’s girlfriend.” She typically responds by choosing the largest wall and showing her stuff. “I let my artwork speak. It’s sometimes more powerful.”


Ballistic has also faced offensive assumptions. Many would consider her artwork aesthetically masculine, given its bleak subject matter and lack of color. “I do remember when I first started, journalists would default to the pronoun ‘he’ because they weren’t sure.” Eventually, she felt that “this is ridiculous, they should know.” Fans of her work would often leave corrections in the comments sections or reach out to journalists directly.


Instead, the show will hold space to acknowledge the importance of the female voice.


Despite the multitudinous stereotypes that refuse to die, “Of Women, By Women” doesn’t intend to pander to women by spouting empty feminist catch phrases. Instead, the show will hold space to acknowledge the importance of the female voice.


All of the artwork to be shown will feature figurative images of women, a nod to Horwitz’s observation that throughout each artist’s body of work “there’s always that archetype of the woman.”


“I did ask a few people who don’t do figurative women,” she conceded, referencing artists like My Life In Yellow and Surface of Beauty as examples. “I felt that their perspective was very distinctly female and sensual. When I was talking to them about it, I thought they would just come from their own point of view and maybe not have the actual woman, but it turns out they will.” Horwitz has tapped into a profound insight about the nature of female expression. “It’s something in the psyche about women wanting to express themselves through the image that they’re familiar with or through their own lens,” she told me.


Art by @lexibellaart // Photo provided by artist


I asked the artists how they might define the female spirit. “Oh Jesus,” Ballistic muttered, before bursting out laughing. “I love that question because it’s so horribly complex.”


I questioned, instead, how Ballistic feels that femininity manifests in her own work. “I guess there is a compassion element to it. There’s a balance. When I put up work, I don’t wanna overtake the space, I want it to work with the space. There’s a harmony to it.”


Art by @jillybalistic // Photo provided by the artist


Everybody, regardless of gender, grapples with conflict. I think in our current era, though, where popular culture has pushed the contradictions women face to the forefront, being a woman is very confusing. There’s strength and there’s tenderness. There’s desire and restraint. Every person must concoct ideal the formula for themselves, based on their own personality and perspective. Because we must determine a bespoke harmony specific to ourselves, it often arises from conversation with one’s own self.


‘Self’ played a pivotal role in Shiro’s artistic development. She is half-deaf, which can make it hard to communicate, and her family moved often, so the artist had a rather lonely childhood. Shiro told me that her character ‘Mimi,’ who consistently appears throughout her work, began during childhood, either as her best friend or an illustrated version of herself. Through this, she found liberation. “In drawing, I could be anything. I could be superwoman, I could be an angel, mermaid, evil, anything.


Art by @shiro_one // Photo provided by artist


While each piece of work featured in this show utilizes the female form, each artist’s individual conversation with themselves will distinguish the pieces from each other. The lineup’s diversity ensures a fascinating look into the machinations of self-discovery.


“There will be one or two things that are really unexpected,” Horwitz smiled. “I think that’s cool because artists are people, and people and art should evolve.”


Ballistic seized this opportunity. She called her work for the show “a complete left turn.” She continued, “it’s gonna be a real shock to people who know my stuff. Not many curators will take that kind of risk… I think that’s colossal.”


As women at large contemplate their own identities, the phrase ‘women supporting women’ has gained trend appeal.


Self-discovery can be beautiful, but it can also be uncomfortable and isolating. As women at large contemplate their own identities, the phrase ‘women supporting women’ has gained trend appeal. While it seems intuitive that we need each other to make it through this reformulation, Ballistic noted that in practice, “sometimes women’s worst enemy is women.”


Shiro has felt the magic of companionship at its best. When she paints with other women, she said, “I feel more unity, because we have to stick together… we can talk about life, we can talk about many things… we can be closer.”


Art by @shiro_one // Photo provided by artist


Horwitz hopes that by curating “Of Women, By Women” she can serve as a liaison to connect artists across its diverse lineup and inspire a sense of camaraderie.


“We need to come from a place of understanding,” Horwitz urged. Everyone has their own story to tell… Let’s celebrate diversity, acknowledge we’re different, but yet, we’re all the same.”


“Of Women, By Women” is an opportunity to forge unity amongst everyone. ““I think it’ll be a place for everybody to gather,” Ballistic beamed. “I have a really good feeling that it’ll be a great opening, good vibes.”


Art by @jillyballistic // Photo provided by artist


“It’s all a risk and a gamble at this point,” Horwitz sighed, clearly atwitter over her first curatorial endeavor. “The art’s great, the artists are great. But I do hope it tells that story, that women have something to say… I hope they feel that, the energy that these women have and the passion that they have.”


“I do hope people learn about artists they didn’t know about when they walked in the door,” Horwitz continued. “What I think is really exciting is someone might come to see Shiro, because they love her hip hop vibe, and then be like ‘who’s Lexi Bella?’ I think that’s the beauty of a group show.”


Art by @lexibellaart // Photo provided by artist


“I really want to see the artwork all together in the gallery,” Shiro said, before showing me an image of her contribution to the show. She dedicated the work, titled “Sweet Science,” to her friends in the hip hop game. “We have to practice hard, we have to keep doing, we have to be strong. I’d never heard the term before. According to Quora, British journalist Pierce Egan coined the term in 1813 to describe the sport of boxing “because it is a sport that requires the pugilist to be tough, forward thinking, and tactical.”


Still, what would femininity be without a measure of softness?


As women, we have had our values dictated to us for far too long. At this amazing point in history where we are seizing agency over our identities, I think it would pay to take a page from the boxer’s book. Still, what would femininity be without a measure of softness? Determining the subtleties of this dichotomy is every person’s true ‘sweet science.’ Starting on December 12th, viewers can gain a glimpse into the process as it plays out on the canvasses touched by NYC’s talented artists by visiting “Of Women, By Women” on its opening night.