When I was 35 or so, a friend introduced an idea to me. Recently she had noticed that her turning 40 meant that men stopped looking at her and that people in general no longer paid much attention to her. I thought this was a wild generalization and it wouldn’t or couldn’t happen to me.
Thirty years later I am well aware of what she meant as I too have experienced this phenomenon. It does not help that I live in an ageist city–San Francisco–within a country that disrespects seniors as well as its non-white population. Aging in America has given me a very personal experience with losing the obvious power of a youthful body, face, and mind. Since middle age (that awful term) I began noticing that as a mature woman I have become increasingly less visible. Some women as well as men give up and lose interest in maintaining their best physical and mental selves. As an artist who draws live models who tend to be attractive young adults, I feel for older models. It takes guts to expose your less firm body to the close scrutiny of an artist’s eye. We are so powerfully programmed to the cult of youth and beauty.
I look around and see (or don’t see) so many more groups of invisible people – the world’s under-represented people. Though I remain dedicated to changing the lives of older women who are living in the shadows of younger people, I am broadening my research to unveil the many types of people who feel invisible. I want to effect social change through public art in a world where people of color, transgender, displaced, disenfranchised, prisoners, disappearing tribal and ethnic groups, poor people, people with disabilities, the homeless, the elderly, the sick, the single, the lonely, and yes, female artists, can be made more visible.
We are at a unique turning point as a result of the pandemic, which has been accompanied by worldwide political and social upheaval. This is a time of renewed awareness, outrage, and a resumption of effort to tackle, shift, and share power. I feel hopeful and encouraged. Recently I founded an artist’s collective united in the effort to reveal who has been concealed. Through the language of art we are tackling the broader topics of identity, how we perceive ourselves, and whether or not we feel seen and heard. Working with our communities in several cities, we are asking questions, collecting data, and making marks to leave behind for others to witness. Read more about our projects as they evolve on our website launching in September 2020.
Susan R. Kirshenbaum.
Aging. Art. Mental Wellbeing. Lifestyle. Women’s Empowerment.