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Women's Equality Day

We commemorate August 26 as Women’s Equality Day to acknowledge those who fought for our right to vote. But we also remember those women who, for reasons of race, class, or economic status, were excluded from that fundamental right.

In the lithograph Womens Equality, the artist Marisol (1930–2016), born Maria Sol Escobar in Paris, highlights two prominent figures of the early American women’s rights movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Stanton, of upper-class status, and Mott, who came from modest means, had the education and resources to take a stand against sexual discrimination during their lifetimes. As white women, they had the privilege of their race, which allowed them to create a public platform for women’s rights despite their gender, even while barred from political spheres dominated by men.

Marisol, Womens Equality, 1975, color lithograph, from Kent Bicentennial Portfolio: Spirit of Independence, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Lorillard Tobacco Company), National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015.19.2592

Marisol often depicted historical figures in her art. What I like about this piece is the subtle insertion of the artist herself. Marisol’s hands rest on Stanton’s and Mott’s shoulders, directing the placement of their heads, torsos, and arms. The artist’s hands mimic the gestures she used while creating the assemblage pieces for which she was famous.

Marisol created this print for the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio: Spirit of Independence to commemorate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. Featuring Stanton and Mott makes sense, since their own declaration of equality was modeled after this document. However, Marisol’s bold move of inserting herself—a naturalized US citizen born in France to wealthy Venezuelan parents—into the larger narrative of American history is compelling.

In a sense, Marisol’s hands represent the invisible or unseen artist as she points to those who get memorialized. Marisol, Stanton, and Mott become immortalized together here, as all three are present in the same work. Marisol’s 1973 self-portrait, Cultural Head, with layers of her traced hands and her name across her lips, serves as a precedent. In Womens Equality we witness the power of the artist and how art can create a space for equality despite differences of race, gender, and class.

According to a New York Times article from 1976, Marisol “chose these two women because of their leadership in the struggle for women’s rights and because she liked their faces.” From my perspective as a Latina born in the United States and as an artist, I wonder if Marisol ever considered depicting women of color for this portfolio. If not, what does that say about the choices we women of color make when creating portraiture that depicts those who have shaped American history? I believe that all of us bear a responsibility to represent those who continually are overlooked.

Even with equality written into the Constitution in 1920, states continued for decades to use poll taxes, literacy tests, and other tactics to prevent women of color, men of color, and poor white people from voting. The legacy of the fight to end voter suppression in the United States is much like the hands in Marisol’s print. History may have rendered many of us invisible, but the work done by those who have put their lives on the line to make the right to vote universal is truly something to commemorate.