Philadelphia’s Sisterly Love Project is a commemorative collaboration that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. It’s a play on words that inverts the city’s domestic moniker, “The City of Brotherly Love,” in The City of Sisterly Love, and it is the brainchild of local photographer, Conrad Benner. The collective of women artists curated by Ginger Rudolph highlights various mediums and reflects the diversity that permeates the landscape of the place with more murals than any other city in the world. The project’s citywide reach reflects the expansive impact of art while revealing how important women are to our everyday cultural fabric. I was honored to be asked to be apart of such an extraordinary exhibit, and I chose subjects whose legacies reverberate this fact.
To be golden in a long, gray winter is not hard when it’s your name and the displayed portraiture likeness of your person is framed by a sunrise yellow backdrop. Jane Golden’s deep green sweater is complemented by a calming saffron that marks her open posture as giving. Her black purse-strap crossing her chest so that her movement is unencumbered reflects the seemingly light barriers we must move to aid the world. The image of her hard at work on what we know will be a beautiful mural piece worth eagerly speculating over reflects the reputation Golden has built for herself in a town that desperately lusts for color amidst its own gray season. In 1984, she was in the middle of her own ashen time as she left sun kissed California to return home to be with family and developed an offering of love for Philly, the place whose amity nurtured her person and artistry. Golden helped establish The Mural Arts Program as the creative powerhouse it is today. Mural Art Philadelphia is an extension of her passion for art and an intervention into the cultural and political crackdown on graffiti artists during the 80s. She wanted to give local graffiti artists a more expansive platform.
I admire Golden for her leadership with Mural Arts and her steady efforts at ensuring it adheres to her initial intentions for community impact. It amplifies the importance of art in our world by putting artists to work, paying us our worth, and respecting our creativity. This program has been a part of my life since high school. The knowledge and experience I gained from working with Mural Arts helped me develop a volunteer mural project when I first graduated from college in 2010 and had a hard time finding a job. The success of the volunteer mural project revealed my potential for making a life through art and lead to more opportunities. Needless to say, I view this legacy Golden has created as necessary and important. I am eternally inspired by people who possess and honor a commitment to the arts, and Golden’s dedication is unmatched simply given the reach of her organization. She is an artist, activist, businesswoman, and visionary, much like the other muse I chose for The Sisterly Love project.
Patti LaBelle is simply an icon! The ostentatious fur-lined coat embracing her legend while she graces lucky viewers with a display of her unique talent mirrors Philly’s affection for its own beloved daughter. Like the cerulean backdrop mimicking a pure sky backlights her performance as if to suggest she is an offering from God, Philly upholds LaBelle’s standing through a loyal fandom that follows and respects her almost 70 years in the spotlight. From the Bluebelles to cuisine, her cross-genre career proves anything is possible. My rendering captures LaBelle in mid-performance, lost in the passion of the moment wherein she is offering joy and inspiration to listeners and onlookers. This is not unlike her success as a performer deemed the Godmother of Soul, an actress whose maternal depictions remind us of the importance of family, and an entrepreneur of comfort foods intended to nurture us through its semblance of home. Her enthusiasm for conquering new ventures feels coated in a grit that Philly cultivates as it prepares us for the world.
Though the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, Black women were still barred from exercising the rights denoted by this law for decades after it was passed. This means Black women have traditionally had different roads to travel to achieve what we understand as success. It matters, then, that LaBelle is a Black woman with success that transcends boundaries. LaBelle has proven herself a force to be reckoned with in any field. As one of Philly’s Black daughters, I can’t help but to be inspired to approach my own business, and life in general, with such love and confidence.
Both paintings can be found in the windows at 1100 Ludlow Street in East Market throughout Women’s History Month / March 2020.