On the first Saturday evening of every month, the Philly Art Collective hosts the HERspace Women's Art Festival. HERspace’s goal is to provide female artists with a space to share and celebrate their artwork.
Founded by artist Martell Oliver in 2014, the Philly Art Collective’s mission is to give local artists a platform through which they can gain exposure for their artwork. While the idea for HERspace was originally Oliver’s, female curator Liyan Smith has recently taken over the project. Smith is in charge of recruiting artists for HERspace and ensuring that the event runs smoothly. Smith believes that her position as a female curator gives her unique insight into the struggles that female artists face daily.
“The whole point of HERspace, and honestly the gallery in general, is to give a voice to people who usually don’t have a voice,” Smith said. “And that includes women because, of course, women are marginalized, and especially in today’s political climate a lot of us feel like our voices aren’t heard.”
The artwork featured at HERspace this month stretched far beyond that of a typical museum gallery. From the center of the exhibit, a display of flowers shaped like a uterus hung on the back wall. On the left wall, moss and shrubbery had been molded into a frame to convey a message of peace. Many of the pieces of art have deeply feminist implications.
To the left of the moss art, bras were hung on the wall. However, these weren’t ordinary bras—they were bedazzled with beautiful beads of gold and decorated with white lace. The artist, Christina Patterson, has been making bras and other garments since March, and she wants every woman to have the chance to feel bold.
“I’m all about body positivity,” Patterson said. “I feel like every woman has the chance to go out and feel sexy, so why not? Or not even just sexy, just feel good about yourself.”
Deeper into the galleries hung a collection of paintings. Reminiscent of the pop art movement of the '60s, these pieces looked like advertisements at first glance. However, upon further examination, it became clear that the artwork served to warn viewers about the dangers of drugs seen in pop culture today. Artist Ava Lledo used a vintage approach to address the normalization of drug use in modern culture.
“I think history a lot of the time repeats itself,” Lledo said. “So that’s why I try to fall back on things with the aesthetics of it and bring it into now.”
On the wall opposite the hanging bras, there was a vendor table advertising candles, face spritzes, and something called “magic breast growth oil.” The vendor, Nikki Cowthran, explained that, as someone who had always been flat–chested, she created the oil to help her boobs “grow and keep them perky and firm. And yes, she said, “it actually works.” Cowthran’s company, Candles With Purpose, also sells candles and linen and room sprays.
“I was inspired by just seeing all the violence and stuff on TV,” Cowthran said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what can I do? I feel like I’m one person.’ So I just started making peace candles and mailing them to all my friends all over the U.S. just so we all could manifest peace, and from there my company just grew.”
Every aspect of HERspace worked towards the exhibit's overall theme: female empowerment. Smith worked to foster a uniquely safe and supportive forum for the artists as well as the attendees.
“Our voices are just as valuable as anyone else’s voices,” Smith said. “We deserve to have a space for ourselves where we’re uplifted, where our art is appreciated instead of depreciated as it often is, and where we can come together and have fun.”
HERspace is a recurring event, and future exhibits will take place on Nov. 2 and Dec. 7.