An inside look at the female empowerment club ‘I Want You to Know’ exhibit

Female empowerment club participated in a thought-provoking and powerful Heart to Heart with Art exhibit in Portland.

In the Cerimon House in East Portland, a moving art exhibition was held by the organization ‘Heart to Heart with Art’.  Founder Lisa Burns partnered with Dr. Guertin and the female empowerment club to create a riveting addition to the gallery. The club’s initiative in spreading awareness and supporting women reflects Burns mission in breaking the silence against sexual violence. Before snapping some shots during a club meeting, Burns instructed them to write something that they wanted the world to know on a whiteboard. From there, the members and many other guests eagerly wrote what they desired to express. The liberating photoshoot was then framed and hung in the exhibit for viewing last Friday.

At the event, the photos of female empowerment club were placed on a wall, and on the other side was a rendition of Burns’ struggle with abuse, and her growth. In the middle of the show, there was a documentary-style short film with Burns’ narration. Around the central area, there were photos with a recurrent symbol of butterfly wings, representing the progression towards overcoming sexual violence, or any adversities. Visitors of the exhibit had the chance to have their photo taken with a dark backdrop, holding props in a sectioned off area. Club members Elle Berry, Athena Lackides, and Anna Sweetland posed with draping butterfly wings and pink boxing gloves.

As the event came to a close, Burns discussed in an interview the origin of her project and the source which ignited her love for art as a means of therapy. Her story is not only one of perseverance but finding an outlet to heal. Burns’ visual rhetoric and personal story will resonate with many artists and victims of sexual violence. The authentic photography showcased is far-reaching in its powerfulness.

Below is an exclusive interview with founder Lisa Burns, and a gallery of some female empowerment portraits and self-portraits.

What is Heart to Heart with Art’s mission?

Heart to Heart’s mission is to use art to bring people closer together. And also it is a way to use art as a form of therapy, and use as a way to connect with everybody else. I am trying to think of the main mission, we have several. But mainly it is to use the arts to connect people, and especially curb drama.

How has projects like these, and your photography in general shaped you as a person?

I would say I have used it as a way of art therapy for myself. I think that the first photo in the exhibition was one that I did in college. So I did it in college, and I wrote this personal poem about what had happened to me as a kid, and it was the first time I had ever done a piece of work that was so personal. And it got trashed in my photography class. Not only was it a self-portrait, which was so scary. But then also it was this meaningful poem about all these horrible things that happened to me as a kid. And an English major came in and said I shouldn’t write poetry, that I had no business doing that, and that it was a horrible photo. And he had a picture of urinals! It was terrible, but what made me so sad was that I stopped doing art. I stopped doing meaningful, personal art because I was so scared of being humiliated again. I didn’t want to expose myself, so that is why this show is so important to me. Because it was not only a way to get my power back, but I let a guy with a picture of urinals take that power away from me. So then I did it on such a big scale. Not only was it one self-portrait, but an entire show.

I think that I was inspired by the photographer Cindy Sherman because she does a lot of self-portrait work.  The more you do in each of these portraits, the more you are setting it up and expressing it. But I think one of the coolest things about this specific project, like when I was doing the fat suit; I made the fat suit, and then was putting it on, and then taking it off for the photo helped me think “Oh my gosh, I don’t have have to carry that weight metaphorically anymore, and I have the choice now.” And I think that happened with so many of the photos.

At the show, I’ve seen a lot of symbolic photos with butterfly wings, what does that mean to you?

So the theme of butterflies, they have always been very symbolic for me. For me, it’s the symbol of growth and transformation. They were all throughout my wedding, representing people who couldn’t be there. And for me, especially now, it’s like finding my own wings to fly again.

What inspired you to collaborate with female empowerment club?

Because I love you guys! I was so impressed that you guys had a club like this. We didn’t have this when I was in high school. And so when I heard that Dr. Guertin was heading up the club for you guys, I thought oh my gosh I really want to be involved. I wanted to see what I could do to support you. I love what you guys have done for the community. And you had some activities that really aligned with Heart to Heart’s activities.

And to take photos with you guys. I was so impressed with all of your statements. The courage that it took to put them up there, and how articulate you all were.

What goal, or message did you want to spread with the art exhibit?

That you are not alone, for sure, and for survivors you are not alone. And for people who have not been abused, I wanted to give them a visual essay on what it was like so that they can be a little more empathetic to those who are going through it, and then offer some different techniques on how to deal with that.