anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Lessons from Making 100 Papercut Portraits of 100 Women

with 2 comments

Two years ago I set out to make 100 papercut portraits of inspiring women, calling it Women’s Wisdom Project.

100 is a lot. But it’s also very little. 
Making 100 portraits is a large endeavor. There’s a lot of work that went into creating this series.

But the number 100 is minuscule compared to how many inspiring, insightful women have come before us, are around us today, and who will lead us tomorrow. What do we lose when we disregard their stories? When we don’t give them a platform?

To me, these have become essential questions as I have worked on this series. Our stories carry power, so do our questions.

Life is made up of complexity and nuance
History, stories, and wisdom are complex and nuanced, in stark contrast to the simplicity of my medium’s black and white nature. We do not live in this simplified duality. Our lives are messy, gritty, chaotic.

Each of these papercuts has involved quotes, and I have also constantly been reminded of what we lose when we only focus on tiny snippets of what someone once said. After all, quotes are simplified, clean versions of otherwise complex stories. Not to mention how many quotes are misattributed, or entirely fabricated.

It is important to do our homework. To not take everything at face value. Certainly, there is power in a condensed statement of wisdom. But there is always so much more behind.

I hope this work sparks a conversation, that it is a springboard for learning more, not just about women in history, but about the stories of women around us.

You need a support team
We often view art as the work of an individual. We have a cultural vision of the lone, struggling, tortured artist, one who uses their medium to work through their pain and emotions. But art doesn’t only come out of pain, and it’s certainly not created in a vacuum.

Creativity can require solitude, but it also needs collaboration, and it certainly needs support, some emotional scaffolding if you will. If you are going to embark on a creative journey, you need people to love and support you, to cheer you on when you can’t cheer on yourself.

We move forward together.

We have so much to learn and so much share
The word “wisdom” can feel loaded. Something that’s unattainable, something that requires a lifetime to achieve. And yet as I have asked women where they have gotten memorable pieces of wisdom, it is often from the people closest to them. A parent, a sibling, a friend, a teacher.

It is perhaps natural that we look to changemakers and leaders for guidance. After all, these are the people who have a fantastic and beautiful ability to distill the human experience into bits of understanding, be it through words, through pictures, through film, through speeches. But most often, the answers that we seek are nearby. They are held by people close to us. Available just by asking.

If so much wisdom is carried in those around us, imagine how much lies with ourselves? How much do we have to offer?

Life is a series of asking questions
There is so much that we don’t know, and so much that we’ll never know. Every time I have sat down to research another woman to profile for this project, it has led me to many other stories, many other threads. It is physically impossible for me to pursue all of them, just as it is physically impossible for us to have a grasp of everything around us.

We can’t read every book, we can’t watch every film, we can’t keep up on every current event, we can’t have a deep understanding of every moment in history. But what we can do is to constantly ask questions.

We can sustain the curiosity to continually drive us to ask questions. This is what creates progress. It’s what keeps us alive.

The Anonymous and the Untitled have power
I debated a lot over the 100th piece in the series. Who would it be? What wisdom did I want to showcase?

Several years ago, my mother and I were at an art museum, and I started paying attention to the number of “anonymous” labels. In an exhibit devoted to folk art, there were several quilts, some of them attributed to the artist, but many of them by “anonymous”—the stories of their creators (most likely women) lost to history. The same was true in a gallery with pieces of Native American art. Stunning pieces of art and craftsmanship, simply with “anonymous” on the label below.

#100 in Women’s Wisdom Project is therefore devoted to exactly that: the unheard, the unseen, the unrepresented, and the stories, wisdom, and power that they have carried, do carry, and will carry. Let us all have the wisdom to pay attention and listen.

The Women’s Wisdom Project is up at Vashon Center for the Arts March 6-29. 2020.

A version of this post appeared in my monthly newsletter Creative Fuel

Written by Anna Brones

March 6, 2020 at 10:28

2 Responses

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  1. Such an amazing accomplishment. Anna! Thank you for your courage, vision, talent, and persistence! You are a force for good!

    Judi

    March 7, 2020 at 08:25

  2. I have been so impressed with your project and each time I saw a new cut I was amazed with the thought put into it and the skill to create the vision. With the current worldwide health crisis I realize that that the presentation of the completed project may see smaller than expected crowds. Certainly, my wish is that it is widely and wildly received with the passion that went into its fruition. Should this not be the case, I trust that you will have a second, later in the year, show so that many more people can see the 100 Cuts and Rejoice.

    Sherrill Cropper

    March 20, 2020 at 19:23


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