One morning, Marlene Luce Tremblay woke up and the only thought racing through her mind was “Women of New York.” When she arrived in New York City years ago, the photographer-artist was not only going through a divorce, but was also battling cancer. It was through the gift of friendship and the kindness of the inspiring women that she met along her journey that she rediscovered love and joy. Tremblay has lived in several cities, but that morning she found herself wondering, “What is it about women in New York that makes them such powerful forces?” This question, combined with the passing of her beloved mother, Candide, inspired the artist to put together an exhibition titled “Women of New York,” celebrating women who have come to New York from all walks of life.
“Women of New York” will be on view at the United Nations headquarters in New York from March 20th – 24th. Images and words combine to tell the stories of 15 women, each of whom has taken different paths to come to this city from countries all over the world. Their stories affirm not only the power of women, but also the beauty that exists in diversity. These women are distinct and manifestly individual, and yet, their differing opinions, beliefs, goals, languages, visions of the world and life experiences bleed together to create a vivid painting (so to speak) of gradient colors and textures. Up close, you can see the unique elements that make up their individual personalities, but from a distance, those differences blend together to reveal a depiction of something greater, of something we all share: our common humanity.
“My hope is to show that diversity among people is enriching,” says Tremblay. “I want to show the importance of friendship, and not being competitive with one another, but helping one another.”
Using Pintography, an artistic process that is unique to her work, Tremblay merges photography with painting to create vibrant, ethereal depictions of her interpretation of reality. For this exhibition, once she photographed each of the women featured, she digitally tinted the portraits and then superimposed an image of the natural world, such as blooming flowers, floating bubbles or thriving plant life. The layers of her paintings represent the many complex coatings that make up our own humanity. The merged images were enlarged and printed on canvas. She then painted over them with oil paint, boldly accentuating the colors she has selected to bring her vision to life. The result is a portrait that, through the double layering of images and rich jewel-tones of red, gold, purple, green and blue, powerfully bares the subject’s radiant essence. The artist captures the beauty of each woman, but not as something that is seen from the outside, but that is buried much deeper and emanates from within.
The exhibition also features excerpts taken from a series of one-on-one interviews conducted with each woman, that give the viewer insight into who the woman in the portrait is, where she has been and where she is going. Through these interviews they shared memories of times spent in the far away lands of their home countries, and the trials and tribulations they faced to become the women they are today.
They are risk takers. Brave, driven, women of conviction and passion. Some of them had to break free of the restraints their cultures place on the role of women, so that they could move to New York City to complete the work they felt compelled to do. Others had to overcome the pain that comes with living an ocean away from their families when they immigrated to New York at a young age. Some have exhibited strength and resilience in overcoming divorce, battling cancer and healing after the loss of a loved one.
All of them believe that women should encourage and empower one another, rather than compete against one another. They cultivate relationships with people of any ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and religious affiliation. They not only endeavor to better themselves, but, through their contributions to society, also strive to better the world. This is what it means to be a woman in New York.
In the words of Patricia, whose portrait is one of the fifteen featured in the exhibition, “Women, we’re so powerful. We can do anything and everything. We’re multi-taskers. We’re intelligent, we’re ambitious. If we were to encourage each other more instead of compete with one another, I think women would be in a whole different position. I think that this project also reflects that.”
So who are these women and where did they come from?
Zhuljeta Buja, now a restaurateur, grew up in Albania, where her family of seven grappled to put food on the table each night. Nathalie Weschler is a psycho-therapist who grew up in an all-Jewish community in Montreal, despite the fact that she is not Jewish. Marianne Kosits was born in New York, she is the daughter of a Polish concentration camp survivor and the first female large systems field engineer to work for IBM in New York City. Maria Aiolova grew up in Bulgaria, she is an urban designer and founder of Terreform ONE, a non-profit organization that promotes ecological design in underprivileged neighborhoods that do not have direct access to professional architects and urban designers. Afaf Konja was born in Baghdad to a Chaldean family, she speaks Aramaic and was the official spokesperson to the President of the 68th United Nations General Assembly. Vivianne Laude was born on the island of Cebu in the Philippines but grew up in New York. Always fascinated with technology, she has built a career for herself in the male-dominated industry and now has her own business. Bo Li was born in Southeast China and works at the Department of Public Information of the United Nations. Amel Bennys is a full-time artist, born in Tunisia and raised in France. Melanie Randisi is from Montreal and was born into a traditional Italian family. She works for the United Nations Correspondents Association and has also discovered a way of expressing herself through her practice as a Pilates & Fitness instructor.
Valeria Robecco is from Italy and moved to New York on her own in her young twenties. She is Vice President of the United Nations Correspondents Association, and she is a journalist who travels across the country covering political stories. Patricia Ramirez was born in New York but spent time living in her home country, Colombia, where she learned Spanish. She is a fashion-stylist and too often encounters women who struggle with body image.
Louise Lahuerte is from China, but she migrated to France and then to Germany at a very young age. By the time she was 11, she was speaking and learning five different languages. After retiring from her thirty-five year long career at the United Nations, today she volunteers at New York University, counseling graduate students of global and international affairs. Soraya Hamiani is an entrepreneurial woman from Algeria. In 2007, she was awarded by the Financial Times for being one of the top 25 leading women and business leaders in the Arab world and North Africa.
And finally, there is Candide, the artist’s mother who recently passed, and who played a significant role in the artist’s inspiration for this project. She was a woman who “had such a big heart that it could contain the whole of humanity,” says Tremblay.