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