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Women of the 112th U.S. Congress in All Their Illustrated Glory Women of the 112th U.S. Congress in All Their Illustrated Glory
Culture

Women of the 112th U.S. Congress in All Their Illustrated Glory

by Emily Nemens

November 26, 2012

Michele Bachmann, Republican Representative from Minnesota

I started painting portraits of the women of the 112th United States Congress not long after the midterm elections, in early 2011. I’d done a range of political art—a comic book about the Madrid train bombings, a chapter in a Studs Terkel graphic anthology, and a big stack of feminist watercolors—so it made sense to start in on a lady-focused political art project.  

As far as muses, I had two early inspirations. I grew up in Washington State, which was represented by two female senators (my favorite being sneaker-clad Patty Murray) and a female governor. I had this naïve idea that “women can do everything!” which is true, but has been mediated by the political realities of living on the east coast for a decade, then in the south for the past year.

Patty Murray, Democratic Senator from Washington

The other inspiration was Michele Bachmann and her ill-fated run in the Republican primary. As I watched her sputter through the campaign debates, with her pearls and pancake makeup, all I could think was “she is trying so, so, hard.” She was trying to sound good, sure, but also straining to embody this feminine ideal—a real double standard (Mitt’s coif aside) for women in power. How do female politicians present themselves to the public? To explore this aspect, I used shots from public appearances as a reference material.

Nydia Velazquez, Democratic Representative from New York

The scale (tiny—6 x 6 inches) and the medium (a kind of neurotic, if not photorealistic, watercolor) both factored into the project. There’s something backhanded about painting these portraits in such a small format, and with such a “feminine” medium as watercolor (a far cry from those hulking oil paintings you see in Washington). But then, when I lined all 94 women of the 112th up (chromatically, by color of powersuit), the result was nearly 50 feet of women in power. That felt like a pretty profound statement.

Tammy Baldwin – Democratic Representative (112th) and Senator (113th) from Wisconsin

Virginia Foxx, Republican Representative from North Carolina

With the recent election, the number of women in Congress has grown larger still, to a new record. We still need to consider how women in power represent themselves—namely, the poof and pearl effect—but during this historic moment, the project feels even more like a celebration of the women changing the face of our government.

For more images visit here and here

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