By JOHN HOWELL Victoria Guerina is an activist who uses her artistic talent to fight for the causes she believes in. That's not to suggest she's short on words, as was discovered on a visit to the Warwick Center of the Arts on Friday. Guerina, of
Victoria Guerina is an activist who uses her artistic talent to fight for the causes she believes in.
That’s not to suggest she’s short on words, as was discovered on a visit to the Warwick Center of the Arts on Friday.
Guerina, of Warwick, is the project director of the first National Juried Art Exhibition and Programs to be hosted by the center housed in the former Kentish Armory in Apponaug next to City Hall. She’s more than the director of the show that opens this Thursday with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Guerina is also the sculptor of the busts of six women, all crusaders for women’s rights – particularly the right to vote enshrined by 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was approved 100 years ago.
Guerina makes clear “Abiding Courage,” the title of the exhibit, is a commemorative event and “not a celebration,” as a celebration carries the connotation the fight for women equality has been won and it hasn’t.
“We’re not there yet, there’s a lot to be done,” she said.
But the exhibit is both a call for action and a reflection of what it has taken and what it will take to move forward.
“It was largely felt that women’s sphere was in the home and the rough and tumble world of politics was no place for the sentimental and uninformed ‘weaker sex,’” reads the exhibit flyer.
Guerina notes that a woman’s property became that of their husband once they married and that even a mother’s children were legally considered to be those of her husband.
The flyer further says that “inspired by local indigenous culture, early suffragists believed all women were able to make important decisions and deserved to have a voice in creating the laws they had to obey.”
The Constitution allowed for each state to decide who was eligible, and prior to 1920, 18 states gave women to vote. On Jan. 6, 1920 Rhode Island voted for the 19th Amendment to become one of the 36 states needed for amendment passage.
Guerina believes it wasn’t easy for the women who fought for the right to vote. Her research into the six women featured in her sculptures convinces her they were “monumental” and of tremendous courage to stand up to the dictates of the time.
Guerina’s sculptures of Elizabeth Cody Stanton, Alice Paul, Lucretio Mott, Mary E. Jackson, Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony were created over several years for different projects and venues, including the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York, and the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in Central Park, in anticipation of the 2023 anniversary of the ERA and specifically for this show.
In talking with friend and former Art League RI President Paulette Miller, the idea was born that the sculptures should not be left in the shadows and that they would make a fitting exhibit to commemorate the 19th Amendment.
It grew from there into a national call for art.
“My initial idea was to show my sculptures of these historic women as role models and to inform the public about the work they did and how important it was in shaping our lives today. The importance of it in our lives today inspired us to include contemporary artists interpreting themes about voting rights, civil rights, diversity, inclusivity, and personal qualities such as perseverance and courage. We wanted to inspire people to stand up and speak out just like these women did to make changes that improve our lives,” Guerina wrote in an email.
“We thought a national call for art would get people thinking about their rights, why they have them and what they mean. The entries we received certainly showed that at least artists were outspoken and ready to share their views. We got entries from all around the country. Many express freedom, hopes for the future, they honor the right of free speech, the history of women in our country, the right to act on one’s convictions, and that sometimes, the only voice some people have is the vote,” Guerina said.
They applied for a grant from the Rhode Island Council of Humanities. As Guerina tells the story, conditions of the $5,000 grant required a fiscal sponsor. They nearly gave up until they contacted the Warwick Center for the Arts. The center was designated as the grant recipient.
In response to a solicitation for entries, Guerina received 81 entries from which the works of 19 artists were selected by Jonny Skye, owner and curator of Skye Gallery in Providence, who served as juror for the show.
Loren Spears, executive director of the Tomaquag Museum, will speak on “Women’s Rights, A Native Perspective” at Thursday’s opening. Additional events are planned during the exhibit. A portrait paining demonstration will be held Sunday from 1 to 3:30 p.m. with Kelly McCullough and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata and in a closing event April 4 from 1 to 3 p.m. Guerina will give a presentation “Women’s Rights, An Artist’s Journey.”
Variations of the exhibit will be on display at the State House in April, at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York, during July, and at the Westerly Public Library in August.
There is no admission to the Warwick Center for the Arts or for the opening reception this Thursday.