Rise of the Phoenix

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2018 has held many milestones for me. It’s the year I started submitting my photography to galleries, was invited to participate in an all-women’s exhibit, and celebrated my 40th birthday by signing up for kickboxing. These steps on my journey guided me to reclaiming my self-worth and recognizing my own resilience. It’s quite rewarding for people to break free from the stifling ideas that the shit in my life was normal, I’m helpless or hopeless, I’m incapable of finding commercial success in art because it’s too competitive, and that I’d be too old to achieve new things.

The all-women’s exhibit in March 2018 was to honor Women’s History Month. Women from all over NYC and Westchester were invited to participate by three incredibly talented artists who curated the show, one of whom is my talented friend Luisa, co-hosted by The Powerlab in Yonkers and an art collective We Art 1. The Powerlab is a spectacularly simple space with lots of nooks to integrate pieces for display and rooms they convert to classes, where they offer workshops to those who are unfamiliar with the business.

Opening night for the month long exhibit titled The Art of the Woman was electrifying. My mother, who accompanied me, and I arrived about thirty minutes after doors opened, but the celebration was only beginning. We signed in at the desk and as we walked through the entrance, the first thing we saw were my pieces. I was stunned and excited and spinning and completely in awe. There I was, that was me, there were my works and people were gazing and chatting about them. At some point I lingered around my area to watch people pass or react. Some did double-takes, not recognizing me as the subject at first glance, while others chatted about the cool treble clef earrings worn in the photos.

Luisa’s family arrived shortly thereafter; as they reentered the building, they greeted me with hugs and congrats. The memory gives me goosebumps because in those first moments, there was a serious catalytic shift in my artistic confidence and to experience it with my mother, best friend, and her family was remarkable as much as it was surreal. 22 years of friendship holds a whole lot of chapters in our lives and this was yet another notch in our belt, not one of heartbreak or health scares, but of pure creative accomplishment (which we work our booties off trying to do).

After the reality of this glorious show sunk in, I was able to divert my attention to fellow artists and browse their works. A DJ named Sunny kept things lively with Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye in one of the many rooms (you know Lu & I took that dance break), there was a black-light space where glow-in-the-dark markers were left for guests and exhibitors alike to leave messages of empowerment and gratitude. So much laughter, so much dancing, weaving through the crowds of people wearing glow sticks, wine, broccoli snacks, discussions of how’s & why’s of pieces, a lot of “That’s You?!”, endless hugs, bearing witness to the most talented teenagers performing their poetry slams for the first time, music, photos, hashtags, selfies, and endless support from the people who made time to show up.

The pieces I chose were self-portraits I shot the year I lost many loved ones. That shoot was a month after my boyfriend ghosted me because I was making too big of a deal mourning my friends. The photos, if I may humbly say so, came out lovely because they tell a story I can’t tell with words. They, to me, capture a raw vulnerability that fit into the show’s theme. During the shoot, I stripped myself of regret for a few hours and put my favorite glass earrings in, a pair of glass treble clefs I rarely wear because they’re fragile, and experimented with light and motion.

The first series shows me smiling as I wear heart-shaped shades, looking very much like the heart-eyed emoji, whipping my head back and forth, and showing off what was at the time my new short hair-do along with those earrings. With the white background, it represents my outer self, the person who is optimistic, selfless, carefree, and fun. The second series, with a black background, shows my serious self; the woman who doesn’t always want to smile and holds regret. With the sunglasses off, my eyes behind clear lenses show a less than thrilled, sad, and occasionally tormented person with regrets in life.

The two frames sitting side by side are my emotional ying & yang, my sun sign Gemini and polar opposite moon sign Sagittarius, my biracial heritage, my inner struggle of the dichotomies by which I used to define myself. Yet, that still felt incomplete, so in between those frames I added yet a third self portrait of a ferocious woman I had to dig deep down to learn still exists after taking a severe beating from life – a single photo taken early this year of my former self who was destroyed in the fire and the phoenix awoken to repossess power of free will in this reality.

The survivor in me took past trauma and changed my perspective on what could come of my future, how I see myself and others in the world, and how there’s nothing more important than my time as it’s so limited. What happens next is up to me and I’m pleased to share as I meet new artists and network, my drive to create is validated, supported, encouraged, and inspired! I currently spend my days choosing what’s best for me, chasing down my dreams, and having a whole lot of fun doing so! This is not about winning or losing, it’s about living.

Instagram links to introduce the folks mentioned in this post. Check out their bios, works, and current projects!
Curators for the The Art of the Woman: Luisa Baptista @luisa_vibes; Nancy L. Mendez @nancy_mendez_artist; Patricia Santos @patty_sofree
DJ, goddess, artist: Sunny Cheeba @sunnaay
Venue: The Powerlab, Community space for creatives, coworking space, and workshops for entrepreneurs. @thepowerlab
Co-Host: We Art 1, Yonkers based artist collective @weartone1
Dawn-Marie Blackwell Sakile, Photographer
Joslyn Taylor, Artist @jossycreates

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About Author

Kelly M. Coffey

Kelly's life trek started out in New York City. With a handful of luck, she's been mini globe-trotting, explored new landscapes, met extraordinary people, and has joyously lived in scenic spots like Puerto Rico and Salt Lake City. Her time is spent learning as much as possible about craft beer production, all things food, wine, coffee & tea, writing about personal experiences in fitness, music & travel, photographing some of NYC's infinite street art and interesting spaces, and celebrating life daily. To reach Kelly directly, drop her a line at vedhead@gmail.com!

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