WOMANISH is not just another pop-up. It is a conscious effort to bring women’s experiences to the forefront. Following their launch, an event titled “Discover your ISH,” which brought together fifteen artists, each presenting their respective “ISH” through their work, and a dinner party that shed light onto aspects of womanhood, the team behind the newly launched brand proceeded to organize a monthly series of panel conversations that invite you to take a step back, listen to empowering women’s stories and share your own. To get the conversation started, they bring together influential women and gender non-conforming people who dissect topics—from style, to family, to the self—and the ways those inform and shape their perspectives and identity. Those events will set the ground for what’s to follow: an interactive exhibition launching this spring. WOMANISH founders Dionna and Danyelle Gray, and creative director Emily Dahlquist talk to Newcity design editor Vasia Rigou about what defines us as contemporary women and the importance of creating safe spaces where one can come together and share their most intimate experiences and thoughts—whether that’s feeling celebrated, or misunderstood, liberated or disconnected, proud or wrongly labeled. But as one digs deeper into those sociopolitical topics through art, community dialogue and collective healing, they realized that WOMANISH is also about something else: not forgetting to have fun.
What exactly is WOMANISH and what was the inspiration?
Emily Dahlquist: WOMANISH is a movement that celebrates the multifaceted perspectives of womxn through visual and interactive events and exhibit experiences—a place for all people to understand womxn’s identities through art and creative installations.
Danyelle Gray: My sister and I are all about community. We were inspired by our passion for women empowerment as well. WOMANISH was a chance to create a safe and fun environment for people of all backgrounds to come together in a place imagined and designed just for them.
We live in the world of the “Made-for-Instagram museum,” where interactive exhibitions strive to provide the perfect photo op and pop-up experiences can reach cult status. What sets WOMANISH apart?
E.D.: The WOMANISH exhibit will not be another pop-up museum of cute, random pieces. Rather, guests can expect conceptual, sociopolitical installations and rooms that feature national and local artists’ perspectives that are vital to the conversation. We are taking the curation to another level. As creative director, I am working deliberately with each artist to reach their vision, and dive into parts of themselves that they haven’t explored before. This results in not only a very visual, but a very emotional experience for each artist and each attendee. At WOMANISH, we are not afraid to touch on taboo topics. Secondarily, we find a lot of value in the programming around our exhibit. Our team has been creating cultural programming for a decade, so our curatorial and community involvement process is intense and relevant. Folks can expect workshops, private events and intimate listening parties throughout the exhibit’s duration.
WOMANISH is centered around one core question: “How do we define and express the multifaceted parts of ourselves in the contemporary world?” Why is now the time to have this conversation?
E.D.: There is a lot of tension around social topics, I believe because there are more and more platforms that allow free expression, including conceptually built experiences. At WOMANISH, we think it’s a miss not to use this new experiential trend to an advantage that actually has a purpose. A lot of people ignore or look sideways at social politics and, unfortunately, we live in a world where womxn are still not treated equally. WOMANISH provides a fun place to not only let people express their perspectives of their feelings, but for others to understand them and feel inspired, too.
Your inaugural panel discussion, Famish, focused on family culture, and was followed by a Stylish panel event that debated the role of style in womxns’ lives. Having just wrapped your first two events, what was the biggest lesson learned so far?
E.D.: That what we are doing is a movement, and those who show up are a part of it. The response from those who attended has been incredibly overwhelming. We have a vision that wasn’t started by a brand or corporation, and the affirmations we have had from people who are getting involved and joining the conversations is tremendously important to the growth and meaning of WOMANISH. A lot of the artists who have been involved, as well as the guests, have broken down their stories with us and shared their current transformations in life. Most people have said, “This couldn’t have come at a better time in my life” and “being here makes me feel like I am a part of something special and relevant.”
As we move closer to the WOMANISH exhibit launch in spring 2020, can you talk about what you have coming up?
E.D.: We have a lot of work to do. We are a small, strong team of courageous womxn breaking new ground—and we are so here for it. We are working with a handful of artists to create their own perspectives into large installations, as well as creating about ten to fifteen conceptual installs that we have been dreaming of and tweaking since the summer of 2019. There will be special programming leading up to the WOMANISH exhibit that is yet to be announced.
What are you hoping the visitors will take away from this experience?
E.D.: A sense of empathy and communal understanding of womxnhood. And an understanding that we each have various beautiful identities and that we should be inspired to express those different parts that make up who we are.
What’s one thing you want the world to know?
E.D.: The WOMANISH movement is a living, breathing thing that, if nurtured, can lead to a powerful cultural shift in terms of how we think and understand ourselves and the womxn around us. Communication and expression begets more communication and expression, and so on. And that’s what the WOMANISH platform is all about.
Greek-born Vasia Rigou is a Chicago-based art critic and pop culture journalist, largely on the subjects of contemporary art, design, and fashion. She moved to Chicago in 2013 to study Arts Journalism at the School of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC,) where she was awarded the New Artist Society Merit Scholarship. She grew up to appreciate art after years of carefully planned, culture-filled travel itineraries and museum-hopping around Europe with her family. During this time, she received a bachelor’s in English Literature, in her native Athens; a master’s in Media, in Nottingham, UK; and studied foreign languages—English, German, and Spanish at the University of Salamanca, Spain. Her writing—reviewing museum exhibitions, gallery shows, art fairs, fashion shows, and music festivals among others—has been published nationally and internationally both in print and online. In 2017, she founded and now serves as editor-in-chief of Rainbowed.—an independently published website focused on the visual and performing arts, digital media, and popular culture. When she’s not writing about art or looking at art—wine in hand, she keeps up with Chicago’s creative entrepreneurial and startup community, makes lists for pretty much everything, drinks immense amounts of coffee and takes cross-country road trips every chance she gets.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.rigouvasia.com