Women’s art and International Women’s day
For international women’s day, I was asked to give a speech on my career as artist and film-maker. Below you’ll find my speech!
When I was asked to give a speech at first I panicked, not only because I suffer from anxiety. I guess the main reason is that I communicate using videos, images, colours, movement, poetry, it’s what I know to do best and with those I created a language that allows me to express my emotional intensity, trauma and healing, and I feel understood.
But I also realised that far too many times, I did not use my actual voice, the one you are hearing now, because of trauma.
I’ve seen firsthand how domestic violence affects women and girls.
I grew up in a home where domestic abuse was a part of my daily life. I couldn’t protect anyone — and that helplessness followed me everywhere.
I was surrounded by violence, chaos, and unpredictability.
As I grew older and began to understand more about the world, the injustice of this situation became clear to me: it was not just my father but the inequity in our society that encouraged him to do so.
You see, my mother was young, brown Colombian in a country that saw foreigners as leeches and my father, was white, Italian, with a middle class job.
He had a free pass at everything.
I never knew what I could do to make things better, and so I remained helpless through my childhood. And being raised in that kind of environment, it’s hard not to internalise a lot of negative messages about yourself as a woman.
It’s hard not to feel like you’re not worthy of being loved, or that you don’t deserve any respect at all.
Eventually we left, she started a new family and I moved here.
And for all the difficulties my mother endured during that time, she still managed to instil in me an incredible sense of justice: especially towards women.
These experiences that I know are not unique to me but that sadly happen to millions of girls and women every day, all over the globe.
And I’ll tell you more, most of the women I know have been sexually assaulted, harassed, or have suffered from domestic violence at some point in their lives — and many of them are experiencing it right now, as I speak. It’s our world too, but we don’t feel safe in it.
And when we leave our houses, we still have to constantly look over our shoulders, holding the keys tight in between our fingers because “you never know”.
And I’ve not even scratched the surface on the multitude of ways that gender violence and discrimination is committed.
But what boils my blood is how normal this is, how some still believe that this is part of being a woman.
This has to change, starting by educating men, eradicating internalised sexism in any individual.
I mean, even when it comes to the artworld, for centuries the act of art-making was not considered an appropriate pursuit for women.
We were discouraged from playing with paint, spending time in public spaces alone, or writing down our feelings in any kind of creative way — all because these things might make us seem unladylike.
In too many spaces this is still the case today and I want to use my privilege now to empower other women and I am grateful that new generations are starting to realise this and help out each other, speak for those who can’t.
I could go on for much longer than 10 minutes talking about all the pain and injustice that we go through as women, the unsafety, the violence, but I want to focus on something else, not the perpetrators, I don’t want to give them any more power, any more space in my story and in my life.
I create art in defiance of the idea that I am just a victim, my story is so much more.
I already painted about those experiences, they took enough away, but not tonight and not anymore and I want to tell you more about how I reclaimed my own life and empowered myself and hopefully others.
I am fully aware that trauma can’t be simplified in just a speech and neither can healing, but I can show you how art and film-making empowered me.
I started processing this pain through my body and from my body through my art and film-making. My hands became the vessel for everything that I have seen and gone through. Art gave me freedom.
It gave me an outlet for all of the emotions that felt so overwhelming when they were rattling around inside of me. It reminded me that I could use them into something meaningful.
To me, creating art empowers me as a woman: in the act of creating, I am communicating myself and making an important statement about what I believe, who I am as a woman, and what other women are capable of accomplishing when they embark on their own creative journeys.
It pushed me to be creative and think in new ways, and it made me take responsibility for my own decisions — to live my life on my own terms, not to lose myself in the relationships I had with others.
The painting I am presenting to you today, is called I belong deeply to myself, there are two versions of this; a small and a big one which is the one I have here today.
First of all, belonging to yourself takes a lot of hard work. That’s something I learned as soon as I started my journey.
It means being able to define myself, rather than letting others do so.
For a long time, I felt like other people had some kind of ownership over who or what I was, and this feeling limited me.
As women, so many of us are taught that we must belong to others first to know who we are and our purpose.
But I don’t stand by that, and art and film-making allowed me to create a life for myself and gave me purpose. This painting represents what it takes to find yourself again and to experience a deep sense of belonging within your own self.
The idea of belonging to yourself is so important — especially in a society that so often tries to tell us what to do, who to be, and how to live.
Because for far too long, it was more like I’d been stripped so far down that I didn’t even know what “myself” even meant anymore, I felt that I did not have control over my body, my life and mind.
This artwork is about not letting perpetrators take it all, not letting the circumstances win, it’s about turning the narrative in your favour, living and thriving.
It’s about realising that despite it all, you are still here, you belong deeply to yourself and even afterwards, once we are gone, we will still belong to ourselves because we are all that we have, we always come back to ourselves, we are all we have.
It’s about letting go of hopelessness and embracing ourselves, because they can take it all, but not our core, not our depth.
“Deeply” is the key word here. Deep, as in oceanic and I used blues to represent this, as in a vastness of space for us to explore and discover through our recovery and our life. The green undertones represent growth and development. I have also chosen to include golden hues in this painting. Gold represents illumination and light — which are things that come from within us.
We illuminate our paths with our dedication to finding purpose within ourselves and our willingness to share that purpose with others.
I know first hand what it feels like to not feel like yourself, when someone takes you away from yourself. But I want to tell you about something that I’ve learned and that is..we belong deeply to ourselves, I belong deeply to myself. And despite all those awful experiences, we STILL belong deeply to ourselves. It’s your story, not theirs.
Alessia is a Colombian Italian artist based in London. Her works explore the themes of mental health, womanhood and identity. To know more about her work or book as a speaker for your event visit www.alessiacamoirano.com