The New Revolutionists is a portrait project started by Laura Burhenn, singer-songwriter and front woman of the band the Mynabirds. It was launched in conjunction with the release of their sophomore album, GENERALS. The album’s name comes from the Richard Avedon photo “Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution.” Looking at the portrait of upper-class ladies in their satin gowns, Burhenn thought about what true revolutionary American women look like. Women who stand up to injustice are rarely pristine; they get their hands dirty. And Burhenn wanted to pay tribute to that.
The portraits are visually inspired by Avedon’s classic portraiture, Native American and soldier portraits, and iconic photos of notable women who are looking directly into the camera with an intensity, a ferocity — total and clear vision — and power. The image is meant to capture the spirit of a woman the instant before she would go into a metaphoric battle for everything she believes in.
The project is a nominative one, meaning that each woman featured then nominates other women to be a part of the project — women who have inspired them personally, women they consider the true revolutionaries. And what makes someone a “revolutionary”? It’s defined by each woman involved in the project. Revolution can start small, in a kind neighborly gesture, in a mother or friend’s love, in community organization, in a national or worldwide crusade to end poverty and inequality. But often the truest revolutionaries are the ones who live quiet lives of bravery; some make headlines, many do not.
The project will run throughout 2012. In an election year when so much time, energy and money will be spent on political contests, this project aims to shine a light on women making a difference — often on shoestring or nonexistent budgets — in their own communities all over America, despite the powers that be.
The purpose of the project is to pay tribute to the vast web of women who do various types of important work: artists, community organizers, doctors, mothers, women who embrace their lives and work to help and empower those around them. It is an awareness campaign for non-profits, women and works of art that empower. It is also a yearbook of sorts that serves as a resource for a generation of new women, who can realize their own power by seeing it in the faces of other women. Coordinated gallery showings around the country might follow, perhaps with a printed book of portraits to raise money for organizations doing good work. But above all, the project is a reminder of the strength, beauty, and power in ourselves and in the women all around us.