A Ribbon Around a Bomb


“A Ribbon Around a Bomb: who I am being + becoming in this space” 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of my magnetism. It’s not coincidental that I’ve attracted so many powerful people into my world, so many gems, so much brilliance. I believe that in one way or another, I must be calling forth or requesting this type of commanding energy from the universe. In 2012, when I came home from living abroad in Paraguay, I started to recognize how many powerful womyn occupied my sphere of influence, how many amazing womyn were part of my life. As an artist and documenter, devoted to freezing time and holding on to ephemeral moments and eras with my photographs, I had to find a way to capture this phenomenon, this powerful moment in time. I had to somehow showcase this realization that the womyn surrounding me possessed special and distinct types of magic.

“A Ribbon Around a Bomb: who I am being + becoming in this space” is a photographic document / portraiture series that examines the feminine force present in my world. It is an homage to the variety of gifts womyn offer this world and an artistic declaration of the tools we use to fight for our liberations, justices and fundamental freedoms. This ongoing series contains digital color portraits + accompanying written reflections of womyn who I consider vivacious, unapologetic, passionate + courageous. Ribbons symbolize sensitivity + elegance, while bombs represent fiery, charged potential. The imagery of a bomb laced with a ribbon speaks to the contrasts that these womyn experience + inhabit. The finesse, femininity + grace of a ribbon matched with the vigor, aggressiveness + threat (not necessarily negative) of the way we live our lives, reminds me of the way my muses live their own lives – in a way that is simultaneously Feminine and Fearless. 

It has always been important for me to photograph people and spaces that are recognizable to me. The things I know bring me comfort and security and I feel a certain level of “urgency to archive” when I feel these things are fleeting, transitory. However, beyond this yearning for the familiar, when I can recognize the beauty and potential of my images to influence and inspire, therein lies the enchantment in my art. The womyn I have chosen to photograph for “A Ribbon Around a Bomb…” are womyn and girls who I know, love deeply and admire, who have influenced me in some way and who remind me that womynhood is inclusive of several, varied realities and experiences. They remind me that the ways we view ourselves and what we have to offer are critical elements of how we participate in this world; that we are simultaneously being and becoming in this world. They remind me of the perpetually fundamental Audre Lorde quote, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.” For me, empowering women is empowering humanity but first, we must recognize the source, the fountain, of our individual powers in order to harness those powers in our struggle for equality.

In “A Ribbon Around A Bomb,” I asked muses to reflect on one characteristic that makes them powerful, to tell me what makes them a “bomb,” + to complete the phrase; “I am powerful because I am....” What I originally envisioned as a simple and painless assignment was actually a tremendously challenging act of meditation and self-observation, something that required my muses to search for the origins of their influence.  This element of self- reflection is pivotal in telling our stories from our own perspectives, in seizing agency of our representation in this world, images and stories that are often male-dictated and dominated. This internal investigation is a necessary element in being able to function in the external world. It requires that we see ourselves as valuable contributors to our societies, as worthy of being respected and living dignified lives. What’s more, these statements give us, as an audience, insight into the qualities we personify, value, rely on + embody as womyn and girls – our cores, our foundations, the weapons we wield to overcome life’s obstacles with confidence + finesse. Power and womanhood can and do co-exist. These women are real-life examples of that truth. Our individual strengths are the instruments we employ to fight the discrimination, racism, sexism, poverty and the many other multiple layers of prejudices we face in our communities. My muses have been photographed in a way that is defiant, resisting inequality and discrimination against womyn, standing tall and proud in defense of an image of feminine force. Together, we are able to make art that secures this compelling image. 

In the process of creating these images together, my muses and I are challenged to consider who we are, what we have to offer our communities and environments, what we deserve as human beings and also to compare that against what we actually have/can access and can achieve. This reflective process forced us to consider the fact that as women, we face additional barriers to the enjoyment of our human rights either because of our socio-economic class, race, ethnicity or migrant status and in some cases, a far more layered bias due to the combination of these factors. We believe in the equal enjoyment of human rights by all living, breathing human beings, regardless of gender. We want to enjoy our freedoms without distinctions.

Seeing womyn and girls that are like us reminds us that we exist. These portraits offer a portrayal of feminine strength and introducing them into the public domain is a brave act of shifting the discourse on womyn and girls. It gives us a visibility we often lack. Art is my way of bringing us into the conversation. We need to see ourselves in these portraits, imagine ourselves, and each other, as powerful in order to work towards harnessing our powers in the struggle for women’s equality. Keeping us invisible is a violation of our basic human right to be, to simply exist. In the struggle for women’s human rights, all of the character strengths of my muses are necessary: authenticity, courage, hope, fearlessness and resilience among others. For me, seeing, acknowledging and visualizing their strengths demonstrates the forces these womyn wield to overcome the tragedies, pains and struggles that exist in their lives.

This series is an ode to femininity + grace, to strength + revolution. It is also a testament to the power of creative art. It is a reminder of the fundamental freedom of expression I enjoy as an artist. It is a way to share something with the world, to offer inspiration. Art is also a way of fighting back, of adding to the discourse on womyn and our experiences so that the dialogue on womyn, which revolves around us but often dismisses our voices, does not continue to be one-sided. We are not only imagining equality, we are also imaging equality. With this series, I am forcing people to say, “Look at these important womyn; we are human, we are here and not in the monolithic tragic narrative that often pervades our environments and spaces.” This is how I choose to fight back against the distorted images and stories of who we are and who we can be: by offering examples of womyn in my own life who are phenomenal in so many extraordinary ways.

I hope this series inspires womyn + girls to identify, define + embrace whatever it is that gives them strength to navigate life, to live with dignity and respect. The muses in “A Ribbon Around A Bomb” are an artistic portrayal of the matrimony between femininity + force, between grace + guts and most importantly, they are a true and honest reflection of girl power. 

Tanya. "Courageous"

Tanya. "Courageous"

Tanya, “Courageous”
prospect park
brooklyn, 2014

I am powerful because I am courageous.

I claim my power in all aspects of my life. I am an artist, a doula, an academic, a lover, friend, and daughter. The central theme of all my endeavors has been to create and hold space for healing.

I give my all. I love hard and I pursue all of my interests and passions, even when there is incredible risk.  Even though it makes me vulnerable, I welcome it.  This has sometimes been mistaken as “reckless behavior” by those who do not recognize the strength that exists in vulnerability. I am very clear and intentional with the choices I make and have made.  I come from a big family of mostly women and so from a very young age, I have been surrounded by every possible version of what it means to be a woman.  I like to think that I am a reflection of each and every one of them. 

I simply believe that wherever I go, I must go with all my heart. I don’t know any other way to live.

Stephanie. "Resilient"

Stephanie. "Resilient"

Stephanie, "Resilient"
sunflower graveyard
brooklyn, 2013

I am powerful because I am resilient.

I come from a matriarchy of warrior women. Resilience runs in my blood. I learned to be resilient by example. I saw how all the women in my family and in my community faced hardships and challenges with such grace and strength that it instilled in me a deep sense of powerful self awareness and thick skin. I have always been super aware of the fact that I grew up in a city where the fatalistic narrative for Latinas has been prescribed and formulaic with no room for anyone to even have the chance to rewrite it. I knew I wanted to rewrite the script, transform the expectations, and shatter any obstacles in my way since I was a child. Being a queer Latina feminista is an act of resilience and resistance. My resilience stems from my community as well, it is not an individualistic endeavor for me. My experience as a life long activist has taught me the sweetness in resilience when the struggle is bitter. The Bronx is where I call home and its grit never leaves my demeanor. I'm a daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants. The migration started with my Abuelita and her resilience lives in me. What makes being resilient powerful is the fact that I will always, no matter how high the stakes are stacked against me, rise stronger than ever. My struggles helped me practice daily alchemy, transforming them into moments of rebirth and resilience. Resiliency is a process not a state of being, I am always recreating and remaking different selves on a daily basis that help me flow through life with fiery passion in my heart.

Don't sleep on me, basically.

Gloria. "Unbreakable"

Gloria. "Unbreakable"

Gloria, “Unbreakable”
mosholu park
bronx, 2014


I am powerful because I am unbreakable

Suffering from a loss is difficult enough, but suffering the loss of a child is even harder. My first thoughts were, "What am I going to do?" "I don't think I can live like this."  But, with the support of my family, friends and my sorority sisters, I was able to live and love again. I was able to work on pushing through the pain without ever forgetting the memory of my daughter. My resiliency stems from her. I do everything for her, for her honor, for her memory, for her life. Because of her, I am stronger, wiser, knowledgeable and capable of overcoming any hardships that may come in my path. She is my rock and because of her, I now know how to defend, love, honor and fight for what I believe in, to never be discouraged and to continue to be strong not only for myself but for my household.  

Because of her, I live through my struggles and pain in order to succeed and make her proud. I will not be broken.