She Would Do Anything for Her Tribe

All the Women Who Have Influenced Me Throughout My Journey

Today, I am a strong, independent woman. I am pursuing my passion with the entirety of my being while bravely battling all the adversities that come my way as a woman and an artist. But how did I get here? Who were the women that came before me and paved the way for me to grow into the woman I am today? For me, it all started with my mother.

My mother was an artist, musician, and lifelong feminist. From a young age, she cultivated my interest in the arts and supported my passion every step of the way. She even let me take up an entire room in our house to practice my art, which at the time was extremely expressive and focused on giving a voice to all the hardships I was going through. However, not only did my mother play a huge part in cultivating my passion for the arts, but she also taught me what it meant to be a resilient, loyal, and brave feminist. She lived her whole life standing up for what was right, whether it was for other women, my sister and I or even herself. In this way, my mother sacrificed her life’s work in the arts to raise my sister and I. She fought every step of the way to protect my sister and I and provide us with a life that was better than her past of severe abuse. This took a lot of time and energy directed at dismantling generational trauma and healing our family, but I truly believe that without her efforts, I would not have been able to pursue my artistic passions. It is for this reason that I see my mother as an extremely powerful leader. She would do anything for her tribe and I feel lucky that I was able to have such an incredibly strong female figure to guide me as I navigated the realities of being a woman in a society that privileges men.

Yet, the battles my mother fought for my sister and I were not the only obstacles she had to face. You see, she also had AIDS during a time when no one really knew what AIDS was. But, despite the painful mental and physical effects of this chronic condition, my mother was a powerhouse. She did everything she could to extend her life and continued to put my sister and I’s wellbeing at the forefront of her life. Additionally, she worked as an activist for the AIDS movement, giving herself over to the larger cause as well as the needs of others who were living with AIDS. She was truly an inspiration and the reason I am the woman I am today. Not only did she teach me how to be a strong woman, but she also paved the way for me to be able to pursue my artistic passions. For this, I am truly grateful and feel privileged to be an artist. It hasn’t always been an easy road, but I do it all for her.

Upon the foundation that my mother built, various women have contributed powerful examples and important lessons to my life and growth. First, I have had many incredible female mentors throughout my career. Growing up in Utah and beginning my practice there, I didn’t know any female photographers or even anyone who was doing anything remotely creative. It was very isolating. Thus, when I finally moved to Los Angeles and got to work side by side with female photographers and artists, I was ecstatic. It felt incredible to discover that I wasn’t alone in my passion and I soon realized that there are many other tenacious female artists in the world who are deeply involved in the art world as well as standing up for other women. From these women, I gained various mentors who taught me what it meant to be passionate about your own craft while simultaneously raising other women up. Throughout my career, I have watched as these women continuously put in the effort to pursue the next opportunity. It is as of they see hard work as a privilege and they have no intention of wasting it. It has expanded my perspective greatly to watch them implement this attitude and through it find success. Through these female mentors, I learned to never give up, no matter how hard life gets.

In addition to my personal mentors, there have been several female artists and musicians who have cultivated my passion for both art and feminism over the years. There was Margaret Kilgallen, who combined graffiti, painting, and installation art to create uniquely handmade pieces that establish the idea of togetherness by emphasizing belonging over isolation. Kiligallen’s paintings also showcase women participating in various everyday activities, which I always found to be deeply fascinating, yet relatable. Additionally, I have always been inspired by old school female photographers, such as Diane Arbus, who were practicing their craft before women were really established members of the art world. However, the female photographer I probably look up to the most is Vivian Maier.

Vivian Maier was an American street photographer whose work was discovered and honored around the world after her death. Although she worked as a nanny and caregiver throughout the later years of her life, she explored the art of photography in her leisure time. Over five decades of capturing the people and places around her, she would come to leave behind 100,000 negatives as well numerous homemade films, recordings and video collections to be recovered after her death in 2009. To me, it is extremely touching that she was simply interested in photographing the world without anyone ever seeing her work. Maier was extremely invested in her craft and she did it for herself, a concept that I find to be extremely beautiful. I like to think that in her heart, she always knew that she was making something special, but made the conscious decision to keep her artistic practice private. However, I do find some sadness in the fact that she is now an internationally respected photographer, yet she didn’t live to see it. Although maybe that was her desire all along. In all of these ways, Vivian Maier is a true inspiration to me. Her art not only sparks my passion to create beautiful artwork, but her story also reminds me of the reasons I practice photography. My art is for me and no matter the hardships that come my way, it will keep me grounded.

In addition to female artists, I have also always been influenced by women in the music industry. There have always been specific soundtracks or individual songs that I have become infatuated with. Some musical tracks have even served as inspiration in my artistic vision and concepts for photographic projects. Additionally, I am constantly learning from the various strong, badass female musicians who I have encountered throughout my life. For example, I have always really loved Kathleen Hanna, an American musician, artist, feminist activist, pioneer of the feminist punk riot grrrl movement, punk zine writer, and lead singer of the feminist punk band Bikini Kill. She was one of the first rebel women fighting for feminism that spoke to my generation. Through her music and activism, Hanna taught women everywhere to be loud. Personally, she instilled in me an independent, firecracker, punk rock spirit that has carried me throughout my career and personal life. Her work as well as that of many other female musicians and artists has contributed to my growth into an active and powerful feminist photographer.

Yet, we all know that success most often occurs when you work together and this is certainly true when it comes to feminist activism. One organization that has continuously caught my eye within the greater feminist movement is known as the Guerrilla Girls. The Guerrilla Girls is a group of feminist activist artists who wear gorilla masks in public while using “facts, humor and outrageous visuals to expose gender and ethnic bias as well as corruption in politics, art, film, and pop culture.” In my opinion, the Guerrilla Girls are powerful because they work as a team. Together, they go out in the streets to spread messages about equality and intersectional feminism. By wearing gorilla masks in public, they maintain their anonymity while shifting the focus to the issues they are addressing. It is this anonymity that makes their message so influential. While everyone knows who they are as a group, no one is aware of their individual identities. In this way, activism is much more effective when it’s collective. In my opinion, we cannot achieve anything without another person supporting us and fighting beside us. This applies to feminism and equality within the arts. We need individuals representing all genders, sexualities, races, ethnicities, and financial backgrounds to stand up against inequality if we are to make a difference. If we don’t come together in this way, real foundational change may never happen.

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Join me here on Wednesdays at 12pm to learn more about my personal journey and begin an exploration of your own. If there are specific topics or issues you would like me to respond to, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram at @teresaflowersphotography or @nakedanddreaming. Or tune into my weekly Instagram Live stream on @teresaflowersphotography where I will be discussing these topics in more depth and answering your questions!

Thank you all for your support and encouragement over the years. I am excited to continue this journey with you!

Teresa Flowers is an internationally recognized multimedia artist based in Portland, OR. She is also the founder of Alien Mermaid Cove and Altered States.