Día de los Muertos Artist Interview: Elizabeth Benson & Brandy McDaniel

"WOMEN WHO MOVED THE MOVEMENT," 2017. Elizabeth Benson & Brandy McDaniel.

 

How have these women inspired you? Did any of these women inspire you creatively in your earlier works?

The only woman I knew when I started this piece with Brandy was Mother Jones. I knew something of the triangle shirtwaist fire, for the haunting story of women being locked into their workplace and as a consequence, burning to death. I knew of Dolores Huerta—but not to the extent that I learned about her life and legacy during the experience of the show.

I knew I was angry about the political landscape and I knew it was important to find something positive to do with my anger. I knew the power of being my part of the Women’s March on the day after the inauguration of the 45th president who was not Hilary Clinton, who I had voted for. I walked with women in New York on that day after attending a performance by my son at Yale, playing Othello.

I felt the power and bewilderment of all of us walking in dismay at the unforeseeable turn of events that has erupted as this crazy presidential term—and I was a little lost. I knew there were women throughout history that had faced this kind of craziness before—and I knew they had done something to organize a just response to the injustices they faced. I wanted to know their names and stories in hopes that their triumph over adversity would inform my own activism—and give me courage and a framework to try to put to good use in this time of times.

Once the call for artists was issued I dreamt up our offering on paper—and then, after we were juried into the show, began re-imagining the project with Brandy.

Do you have any hopes for your audience to take away from this exhibit?

As I stated in our application, “Together, it was our hope that the people who stand in the space we created as part of this year’s exhibition would find a space to ground in their own courage, seek and feel the blessings of those who have passed on as a kind of torch to carry forward in the great relay race of social justice, and be inspired to raise their voices in resistance, knowing that they stand on the backs of millions of (now) voiceless spirits contributing to the unrest of these tumultuous times.”

Now, I would say my hopes are simply that people find someone they can relate to in the images and some fact about labor they can hold onto as they work to make right livelihood mean something in their own lives. I want people to find real, historic sheroes to believe in—to be strengthened by their example and story, and to continue the work they started in the fight for equality, social justice and workplace safety and fairness.

 

What personal growth have you noticed in yourselves while creating this exhibit?

Our relationship changed dramatically over the life of the creation and exhibition of this piece—and I think the gift the work is to each of us as individuals has strengthened our resolve and commitment to stay in positive collaboration and communication about things that really matter. I know I can experience a level of gratitude for the collaboration and the examples offered by the stories I learned through the making of this piece. I know that I am challenged to reach towards all I can accomplish in this now, as a 21st century woman working in Silicon Valley. I notice I rest easier in my skin, and  I feel the accompaniment of the women I’ve learned about as I move flanked in this hour of now. I feel shoulder to shoulder with them—these women who move the movement—and I know that I have a place and a voice and a power to use it to stand up for working people everywhere, especially women, who are still owed the right to a safe, sane, working environment with compensation equal to that of anyone who does their job. I am more positive about my place as a leader in conversations about workplace equality. I am more committed to making my piece of the difference between what is now and what can be for women and working people around the globe.

 

What’s one thing you would want younger artist/activists to know?

I want all people to know and understand that their voice and vision matter—and that by using both, in concert, there is a power and an embodiment that reverberates beyond time. I want artists and activists to know that they live in a continuum—each occupying their moment in the grand relay race towards justice. I want artists and activists of all ages to risk to make their vision take a physical shape that can be shared across all geographies at once—in images that translate to the hearts of others and works to affect a kind of wildfire of inspiration that can generate a movement towards the fulfillment of humanity as a whole. I want each of them to know that they matter, their work matters, and the only thing that actually matters about their work is that they make and share it. The message, the knowing, the growing, the maturation of a vision and a voice will happen the more one risks the making of art, of social movement, of change. There is a conversation alive with the past—still going on in the hearts and minds of free people who long to set each other freer—and that continues to push the envelope closer and closer to all the way open.

About the Artists

Beth has a MA in Transformative Art, and uses her art and installations to provide spaces of self-reflection, healing and collaboration by restoring a sense of the viewer’s creativity to all who see, witness and partake of her offerings.

Brandy is a Union Electrician, IBEW 617, and works to organize and educate the communities she moves in.

Together they are a stand for social justice and right livelihood for all people.