Women: New Portraits by Annie Leibovitz
by Celina Huynh
Women: New Portraits by Annie Leibovitz is a special exhibition on view at the Bayview Correctional Facility, a former women’s jail that is under metamorphosis to become the Women’s Building. This is the first time the facility is being used for its new purpose as a safe space for women, so it’s only that fitting that its inauguration is in partnership with one of today’s most revered female photographers.
WOMEN was originally a series of photographs published in 1999, but Leibovitz wanted to continuing adding to the history of multifaceted feminine strength. The new and extended project, Women: New Portraits was realized with the help of UBS and is being shown in ten global cities as a discussion on women’s rights.
The main portion of the exhibit takes place in the gymnasium, where Leibovitz's portraits are mounted on projectors and collaged on a mural. I was standing in front of a picture of Hillary Clinton when one of the employees came up to me and said, “Isn’t this amazing?” She was an an ex-inmate at Bayview, an African- American women with very small teeth. She now works at the exhibit, and you could tell how deeply the images had empowered her. She told me how important it is for this exhibit to be taking place at this time and in this space. She said I needed to come back and spend at least a few hours taking it all in.
Women: New Portraits is not some conceptual MOMA PS1 new-media venture that you have to pretend to understand. The strength and beauty of Leibovitz’s portraits is immediately palpable to anyone with reproductive organs. Standing in the midst of Misty Copeland and Meryl Streep, I was struck with a hyper-feminine sense of empowerment, an appeal to my feelings and emotions that I have been conditioned to call illegitimate. As women, we are always told to be inferior, and the recent political climate only seems like a step backward. In these dark times, it’s imperative to be reminded that although different and divided, a greater sense of unity can overwhelm the gaps of gender, race, and class.