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Silenced Voices of Everyday Sheroes

For far too long, women have been silenced by patriarchal societies in most, if not all, cultures. In communities worldwide, and for time immemorial, there has been a persistent push to dampen and to control women’s voices. At times, this silencing has been done violently, yet sometimes it is done in a very gentle, subtle, even playful way. Women still speak, but too often our voices are ignored, belittled, mocked, interrupted or shouted down. The strength and depth of this silencing varies depending upon cultural context, but I think that the majority of women have felt it to some degree.

Of course, this makes us angry, but I believe that we can rise above our anger and try to remove some of the barriers to our success — by talking, sharing, and communicating our thoughts and experiences with each other. Through my work, Silenced Voices of Everyday Sheroes, I wish to impart a message of empowerment— graphically demonstrating how our silenced voices and unheard ideas, when brought together, can, indeed, prove to be our strength.

I am inspired by the stories, ideas, and courage of the women I meet. Every day, I am reminded how women are agents of change. With the interracial communication between female figures in my work, I seek to represent the power of unity of action that gives all women a unified voice – how one woman’s voice can spark a chorus of women’s voices and create a cultural shift; how sharing stories can make all of us feel less alone; and with this support we may be able to find the strength to advocate both for ourselves and women as a collective force for change. These female figures still have their red lips closed, because even today, they encounter many obstacles to speaking up and being heard, but this is temporary. Women around the world are starting to share their authentic, sincere, voices that in many cases have been kept silent for years, or for generations — sometimes because it was too painful to share, or because they were too afraid of being shamed, not understood or blamed. Today, women are doing it together, for themselves and for future generations to come.

I think it is essential for us to maintain our courage and persistence, and lay claim to this moment being our time and our turn. I believe one of the ways patriarchal power is upheld is by encouraging competition between women. In Silenced Voices of Everyday Sheroes, the women I present are interconnected, like parts of a puzzle, with each piece, each woman, each culture, forming a proud part of a whole that would be incomplete if even one were left behind.

Among the media I use for my artwork are metal leaves, mainly gold and silver, and pyrography (drawing by burning with a heated metallic point). I burned each woman’s silhouette on to a large birch wood panel and used different shades of wood stains to represent each woman’s unique cultural attributes — letting the wood grain show through their faces, symbolizing that the primary support underneath each of them is the same material, the same wood, the same essence.

I hope this unity of female action becomes a perennial movement of strength which we can pass on to future generations. This message is vital to me as a woman, as an artist, and as a mother. Because to speak and to be heard is to have power over our lives and our narratives; and to be silenced is to be powerless.

Statement published in Mai: Feminism & Visual Culture journal (November 2018)


2018 Winner of So To Speak, Visual Art Contest

Silenced Voices of Everyday Sheroes was the winner of the 2018 So To Speak, Feminist Journal of Language and Art, visual contest, selected by Jessica Kallista, Gallery Director of Buchanan Partners Art Gallery at Hylton Performing Arts Center, VA. Below are her words published in the journal.

The simplicity of Samanta Tello’s Silenced Voices of Everyday Sheroes struck me first: nearly faceless women with blank speech balloons and thought bubbles depicted pyrographically in overlapping columns constructed almost as a collage of the powerful "agents of change" she references in her description of the piece. Tello's use of wood as substrate brings to mind the myth of Daphne's attempted rape at the hands of Apollo. How, as the myth unfolds in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Daphne's only salvation renders her silent in the form of a laurel tree.

I returned to the piece multiple times because of its implicit invitations to the viewer. The invitation to question the manner in which women are portrayed as racially or culturally different, the typecast portrayal of totems of dissimilarity all neatly coming together with well-applied red lipstick. The invitation to consider the impossible-to-ignore moment in which we find ourselves, with the pronounced reverberations of women silenced through time—both individually and en masse—serving as a muted call to which the Me Too and Time's Up and other movements provide a hope-inducing response. And perhaps most importantly the invitation to fill the work with one's own thoughts and the thoughts of others, to respond to and interact with the promise of the deep and complex dialogue that represents the varied, considerable and expansive experiences of women. This is an invitation to create our own, new metamorphosis, one in which we will no longer be overtaken by patriarchy, in which we will no longer be silenced.