Philly artists show some ‘Love’ for Women’s History Month

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Photo Credits: C. Brenner

Portraits of Barbara Gittings, Gloria Casarez and Nizah Morris will be on display in Philadelphia for the month of March. Visit Philadelphia is celebrating Women’s History Month with a street art exhibition called the #SisterlyLove Project. Curated by Ginger Rudolph and the photo blog, Streets Dept., the project features 20 new temporary works of outdoor art celebrating history-making Philadelphia Women, created by ten Philadelphia women artists.

The participating artists each chose two history makers to portray based on their personal connection to their subject. The subjects themselves span generations, cultures, missions and orientations, and include LGBTQ figures like Tara Lessard, Morris, Casarez and Gittings. The works are on view in high-traffic areas and off-the-beaten-path locations throughout the city for the entire month of March.

   Nicole Nikolich, a queer, self-taught crochet and installation artist, said that the #SisterlyLove Project was an opportunity for her to work with subjects she usually doesn’t take on in her artwork.

“My work is all made out of yarn and it’s crocheted,” Nikolich said. “So this is actually the first time I’ve done portraits of someone. I was really excited to take on this challenge. All of the women represented throughout this project are women from Philadelphia throughout history. So half are still living. I wanted to choose women not only that I was inspired by but would also work with my medium because mine is a little different from the other artists.”

For her portraits, Nikolich chose Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinsky and hometown hero Tina Fey.

“She’s a powerhouse of a woman, not only in comedy but also in arts in general. She’s the first female head writer of SNL and she’s gone on to do some great creative projects. She is located in the Gayborhood. She is on the writer’s block rehab building. We wanted to put her in the Gayborhood because she’s an ally.  So it’s been a really cool experience.”

While the Philly arts community is tight-knit (no pun intended) and sisterhood is the theme for this exhibition, Nikolich said that this project is the first time she’s gotten to collaborate with a significant number of these artists.

“I’ve worked with a couple of the artists before, specifically Symone Salib and Manuella Guillen,” she said. “I’ve worked with them through collaboration before and also a couple of other street projects. All the rest of the artists I have not worked with yet but I have followed them closely. This is the first time I’ve gotten work with the majority of them.

Nikolich said that she was happy to see so much queer representation in the #SisterlyLove Project, both in the women celebrated and in the artists participating.  

“I believe six of the ten artists who created these portraits identify as queer and I know there are at least three women represented in these pieces who are also LGBT activists, people in the gay rights movement or are queer themselves,” she said. “I think it’s great. Not only are we highlighting women, which is an underrepresented thing in our public space here in Philly. But the fact that we have large majority of the artists creating them and the artist we are honoring that are also openly queer is inspiring and powerful. It’s nice to see more people expressing themselves and being comfortable with being out and open and using that in their art.”

Nikolich is unique among the other participating artists as she works with yarn for her street art as opposed to the usual street arts mediums used by the other artists like paint, stencils, ceramics and acrylics. Nikolich said she’s become an expert in making sure her creations can withstand the environment as effectively as the painted projects of her peers.

“My work when it’s outside in the elements, it’s not supposed to be long-term permanent,” she said. “As long as no one actually physically goes and rips down either of my installations, they will last until the elements fade the color. Tara Lipinsky is on a fence; she’s zip-tied on there. I expect her to last at least a year and a half before I have to de-install it.  For Tina Fey, I used a cordless hot glue gun that gets to a really high temperature. She is plastered on that wall and she is not going anywhere either. The #SisterlyLove Project is a temporary art installation so if the buildings that we placed these on want to take them down, they said they would last throughout the month of March. Both of my locations said that my pieces they are going to keep up until they wither away but that won’t be for a year and half.”

   The #SisterlyLove Project is on view through March 31. For a full list of artists, installations and locations visit https://www.visitphilly.com/articles/philadelphia/guide-to-the-sisterlylove-project-street-art-exhibit-in-philadelphia/.