Who Does She Think She Is?
Directed and Produced by Pamela Tanner Boll
Edited and Co-directed by Nancy C. Kennedy
(In association with the Wellesley Association for Women)
It’s not every documentary that compels me to stay up writing most of the night and that weighs heavily on my mind for days. But then again Who Does She Think She Is? is not your average documentary. Directed by Pamela Tanner Boll, mother of three, writer and documentarian, the film looks at the under-representation of mothers in the arts and other creative fields.
But before you say, “ Oh, I’ve heard that one before”…. I ask you to keep on reading.
“It wasn’t until 1986, that HW Janson’s History of Art included 19 women artists, out of 2,300 illustrations.. That’s only 21 years ago,” points out Maura Reilly, Curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art Exhibition, the first museum exhibition space of its kind in the world. Moreover, while most art students are female, 70-80% of artists featured in professional galleries are male. I mean 19 out of 2300 illustrations. What gives?
For all of its startling statistics and polls, Who Does She Think She Is doesn’t feel didactic or preachy. That’s because the film enters the personal lives of women who are real people. They just happen to be struggling to gain respect and recognition in places they are not always invited (or able) to attend. There are museums, yes, but also messy living rooms, backyards full of sculptures and nurseries scattered with toys.
“Art is the soul of any culture,” says featured artist Maye Torres. “The search for why we’re here.” Torres remembers being told that she’d never be taken seriously in the art world because she was a woman and a mother. But Torres points out, “ I think there is a direct link between mothering and art. Creation is an unstoppable force of the universe. But we’re not really taught to follow the heart.”
Or meet actress and singer Angela Williams, passionate on stage and in her love for her children, a woman who nursed her baby between the scenes of an early play. “One day I heard a call and I just woke up. The call just keeps getting louder and louder.”
Or Camille Musser, who, for most of her life, put her art on the backburner. “Painting has brought out another side of me,” she says of her colorful paintings full of memories of her native home, St. Vincent in the Caribbean. Every day she says she feels divided between being an artist and a mother.
To be fair, female or male, mother or not, the life of an artist can be a tough one. When your heart pounds to an inner drive that most people might not see or hear, at some point or another you may be the beneficiary of some strange looks. The urge to create can be an unbearably powerful one, a drive that requires inner contemplation, the vulnerability of self-expression and solitude. It can also be physically and mentally painful to ignore. People will doubt you. At some point or another you will doubt yourself.
Of course, art doesn’t usually pay the bills. So to be true to the force behind art is to be faithful to an inner call that defies “reasonable” explanation. And perhaps that’s the point. To live in that space beyond reason once in a while. Within the realm of passion.
One perfect day, I found out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. When words blend into paragraphs and pages, to me they become sculptures. I add here and chip away there until it feels so right my heart is on the edge of bursting. The satisfaction of writing can be so great that I can become lost for hours in that blissful concentration. But I’m also mother to my deeply loved six-year-old daughter, Isabel, and so, feel pulled into many different directions at once.
As one woman said, “It’s hard to push that urge down. I feel so divided.”
Me too. And I think many women (and maybe men too) are in the same boat.
So, to take my experience as a a writer back to Who Does She Think She Is? What struck me most about the artists portrayed in this documentary (many of whom felt guilty and selfish in pursuit of their art) is that they often ended up using their deep self-expression to heal themselves and others. Their stories make me wonder what might happen if the work of more women were permitted not just into museums and galleries but into an overarching point of view that valued the wide scope of the feminine perspective to the fullest of its expression –in all of its phases.
As one commentator in the film notes, the relegation of women to the sidelines in the creative arts is, “simply not just a woman’s issue.” Rather, it affects everything.
Read Kim Nagy’s interview with Pamela Tanner Boll.
In 2006, Kimberly Nagy founded Wild River Review with Joy E. Stocke; and in 2009, they founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC. With more than twenty years in the field of publishing, Nagy specializes in market outreach and digital media strategies as well as crafting timeless articles and interviews. She edits many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
Kimberly Nagy is a poet, professional writer, and dedicated reader who has interviewed a number of leading thinkers, including Academy-Award winning filmmaker, Pamela Tanner Boll, MacArthur Genius Award-winning Edwidge Danticat, historian James McPherson, playwright Emily Mann, biologist and novelist, Sunetra Gupta and philosopher Alain de Botton.
Nagy is an author, editor and professional storyteller. She received her BA in history at Rider University where she was influenced by professors who stressed works of literature alongside dates and historical facts–as well as the importance of including the perspectives of women and minorities in the historical record. During a period in which she fell in love with writing and research, Nagy wrote an award-winning paper about the suppression of free speech during World War I, and which featured early 20th century feminist and civil rights leader, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
Nagy continued her graduate studies at University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she studied with Dr. Karen Kupperman, an expert in early contact between Native Americans and the first European settlers. Nagy wrote her Masters thesis, focusing on the work of the first woman to be accepted into the Connecticut Historical Society as well as literary descriptions of Native Americans in Connecticut during the 19th century. Nagy has extensive background and interest in anthropological, oral history and cultural research.
After graduate school, Nagy applied her academic expertise to a career in publishing, in which she worked for two of the world’s foremost publishers—Princeton University Press and W.W. Norton—as well as at Thomson, Institutional Investor Magazine, Routledge UK, and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.
Kimberly Nagy in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
ARTS – FILM REVIEWS
ARTS – MUSIC
ARTS – PHOTOGRAPHY
The Triple Goddess Trials: Fire in the Head: Brigit’s Mysterious Spark
The Triple Goddess Trials: Introduction
The Triple Goddess Trials – Meeting Virginia Woolf at the Strand
The Triple Goddess Trials: Me and Medusa
The Triple Goddess Trials: Aphrodite and the Lightbulb Factory
The Triple Goddess Trials: Goddess of Milk and Honey
The Triple Goddess Trials: Kali’s Ancient Love Song
ASHLEY – Renee Ashley: A Voice Answering a Voice
BELLI – Giocanda Belli – The Page is My Home
BOLL – Pamela Tanner Boll: Dangerous Women: An Interview with Academy Award Winner Pamela Tanner Boll
DANTICAT – Create Dangerously- A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat
CHARBONNEAU – A Cruise Along the Inside Track: With Le Mobile’s Sound Recording Legend Guy Charbonneau
de BOTTON – The Art of Connection: A Conversation with Alain de Botton
GUPTA – Suneptra Gupta – The Elements of Style: The Novelist and Biologist Discusses Metaphor and Science
HANDAL – Nathalie Handal – Love and Strange Horses
KHWAJA – Waqas Khwaja: What a Difference a Word Makes
MAURO: New World Monkeys: An Interview with Nancy Mauro
MORGANSing, Live, & Love Like You Mean It: An Interview with Bertha Morgan
MOSS – Practical Mystic–Robert Moss: On Book Families, Jung and How Dreams Can Save Your Soul
OGLINE – BEN FRANKLIN.COM: Author & Illustrator Tim Ogline explains why Ben Franklin would be a technology evangelist today
OLSEN – Greg Olsen – Reaching for the Stars: Scientist, Entrepreneur and Space Traveler
PALYA – Beata Palya – The Secret World of Songs
SCHIMMEL – Moonlight Science: A Conversation with Molecular Biologist and Entrepreneur, Paul Schimmel
SHORS – Journey into the Male & Female Brain: An Interview with Tracey Shors
von MOLTKE and SIMMS – Dorothy von Moltke and Cliff Simms: Why Independent Bookstores Matter, Part I
WARD – On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part One, and
On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part Two
WILKES – Labor of Love: An Interview With Architect Kevin Wilkes
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library at 100: From the Stacks to the Streets
Paul Holdengraber: The Afterlife of Conversation
That Email Changed My Life: Rolex Arts Initiative. Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Tracy K. Smith Celebrates Rolex Arts Initiative
First Editions / Second Thoughts — Defending Writers: PEN and Christie’s Raise One Million Dollars to Support Freedom of Expression
ON AFRICA: May 4 to May 10 — Behind the Scenes with Director Jakab Orsos: Co-curated by Award-Winning Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Page is My Home: Giaconda Belli – Nicaraguan Poet, Writer and Public Intellectual
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
The Power of Conversation: David Grossman and Nadine Gordimer – The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture
NEW FROM WILD RIVER BOOKS – Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library
Wild River Books Announces the Stoutsburg Cemetery Project: The Untold Stories of an African American Burial Ground in New Jersey
Wild River Books: Surprise Encounters by Scott McVay
Wild River Review and Minerva’s Bed & Breakfast Presents – “BITTER” Writing in a Weekend: How to Write About the Things We Can’t Change
ALLEN – Quarks, Parks, and Science in Everyday Life: Filmmaker Chris Allen’s Documentary Where Art Meets Science in a Vacant Lot
HOLT – Rush Holt: An Interview with Rush Holt
MANN – Boundless Theater: An Interview with Emily Mann
Keeping Time: A Conversation with Historian James McPherson