May San Alberto: On Artemisias and Airing Inequality

On Saturday, March 8, women and men worldwide celebrated International Women's Day in support of advancing women's human rights and to acknowledge their continued struggles. Around the globe, women face myriad gender inequalities, one horrifying example is the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Spanish-artist May San Alberto explores gender inequalities in her exhibitions, Artemisias and Albores XXI. A state-registered nurse but also a fine artist, May traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2011 to volunteer for a month in Congo's capital city of Kinshasa. However, she also arrived with an artistic project to photograph Congolese women in a stunning series of portraits reinterpreting the works of Artemisia Gentileschi, a female Italian Baroque painter and rape victim known for depicting women in states of suffering.

In a recent interview with Her Blueprint, May shared, "Artemisias is a project that reinterprets some works of Artemisia Gentileschi in order to serve as a reflective metaphor about the strength of women to overcome daily [strife] in any civilization at any time. It talks about women as everyday heroines."
Study on Minerva

To date, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most war-torn countries in Africa and is often referred to as the rape capital of the world. The size of Western Europe, the country has been at war since 1998 with a death toll of 5.8 million people. Rape as a weapon of war is rampant in the DRC. Women Under Siege cites that every four minutes, five women are raped in Congo.

May went to Congo with the Artemisias project in her backpack. She explains why she used 17 of Artemisia's paintings and the Congolese women as models.
Artemisia Gentileschi was raped in Rome by a painter working in her father’s workshop. She reported the abuse and won the trial, although to do so she suffered humiliation and torture and became marked by the conservative society of her time. In spite of this, she had workshops in Florence, Rome, Naples and at the English Royal Court, obtaining great success and recognition throughout her life. After her death, history and historians ostracized her by attributing most of her artworks to other artists –for example, her father, Oracio Gentilleschi, or Caravaggio. She is nowadays considered as one of the most accomplished painters of her time, as well as an icon of a fighter and independent woman and one of the first female painters who lived from her artistic work. 
Study Judith and Her Maid
More than 10 million people live in Kinshasa, yet May searched up until the last days she was to depart Congo for the women she photographed in Artemisias.
The women in the photographs are adults with a hard lifetime behind them, May says. Their country, for 25 years, [has been] the battleground of the deadliest war in modern African history. In this context, sexual abuse was largely used as a weapon of war and, still today, gender-based violence continues to be extremely worrying all over the country. Nevertheless, these are Congolese women who despite the armed conflicts, suffering humiliation and poverty are strong enough to look to the future and face the challenge of learning and teaching. All of them, except for the three teachers, are illiterate.
The single photo session lasted two hours, on September 28, 2011, and used only the clothing and furniture available in the school at that moment.

Study on Self Portrait As a Martyr
Empowering women who are abused and highlighting gender disparity run strong themes in May's work. Part of Albores XXI, both Lagrimas Negras and Airing Inequality also focus on gender equality. May shares that her work is taking on these subject matters to further the dialogue about women's roles and the built-in disparity created from gender alone.
Airing Inequality
She says, "Both in Albores XXI and in Artemisias, I wanted to talk about the situation of inequality women suffer in any country on our planet but without emphasizing the suffering but the power, knowledge and security that we will achieve equality. We are strong even though we are thought of as the weaker sex, we are free although we are badly treated, we are intelligent even if we haven't been to school, we are beautiful at any age, we look after our families, we work hard and enjoy life. We look to the future with optimism despite the inequalities and struggle hard every day for a better world."

Recently, Artmesias won the Celeste Prize and the Laguna Art Prize. It has also received prizes in the International Present Art Festival and has been exhibited in Shanghai and Rome. In 2014, some of the Artemisias' works will be exhibited in Venice and also in Milan.

Note: The artist would like to extend her thanks "to the women who took part in the Artemisias Project. It is thanks to the beauty, dignity and innate ability to perform of the women and men who participated in the photo shoot that this art project exists. It is also thanks to the school sisters, who opened the door of their home, their educational project and their life stories to me. I am kindly and sincerely grateful to all of them for their positivity in life and their generous engagement. Furthermore, to generally thank all the women who have helped me to do my artistic projects and…to thank the men too. They all know who they are."