by Stephanie Land
To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision.
– Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
I sketched this quote in pencil on my bedroom wall when I was 16; it was tucked away by my desk, around a field of flowers I had painted. It may have been the beginning of my feminist experience, without even knowing it. Maya Angelou’s writings got me through and out of my very young and traumatic abusive situation with a high school boy. While studying photography at Columbia College Chicago, I officially found a haven in my discovery of feminism. I found adopting a feminist ideology gave me the opportunity and sense of security I needed in order to express my anger, shave my head and let my hair grow in other places that weren’t considered feminine. I didn’t want to be called pretty, and I fought any kind of denigrating remarks made about women, whether on the street or in the workplace. I used the medium of photography to discover new insights.
I immersed myself in the feminist culture of the 70’s, knowing that if I wanted to progress as a feminist I would need to know about the roots of the movement. I read works by Gloria Steinem, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, books by bell hooks, Alice Walker and Erica Jong. I studied feminist artists from prior decades, attended conferences and Take Back the Night marches. I tried to start up a feminist organization at my college, through the Feminist Majority Foundation, and organized and co-directed a production of the Vagina Monologues with my best friend. With actors from Columbia College Chicago, we raised money for a local women’s shelter on the South side of Chicago. My first time coming to New York City was solely for the purpose of attending the first ever V-Day event at Madison Square Garden. Women had come from all over the world to talk about all of the issues surrounding violence against women.
Feminism for me, like everything else, has evolved over time. My opinions have changed along with my outlook and perspective, all drawn from life experiences through my 20’s and now into my 30’s. My art has shifted and grown over the years as well. I would like to think these changes parallel the evolution of my feminist identity. Following my path as an artist has helped me to evolve as a woman. My anger is gone because I used art and words to work through my trauma. This helped me build an inner strength that comes from a true place of healing and love mixed with ambition and the will to meet my goals. I unearthed my own feminine self through all of this work, discovering what strong, sexy, independent and beautiful means to me.
Over the last decade I have volunteered or shown my work in galleries run by women such as Woman Made in Chicago and Pen and Brush in The Village. I am also a member of an all female art collective in New York City called Younity. As a photographer and paper artist, my feminism will always be ingrained in what I create. ▢
Stephanie Land is an artist from Chicago, currently living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She received her BA in Photography in 2002 from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has been shown throughout the United States and published in Direct Art magazine, Plateau Magazine, Columbia College’s 6X6 book series, the Chicago Art Journal and TPM magazine in Brazil.