In 2017, Conrad Benner, creator of the long-running Philly art blog Streets Dept, wrote a poignant op-ed for The Inquirer, calling out the fact that in a city with 1,500 permanent sculptures, only two honor women, and that those women—Joan of Arc and Mary Dyer—aren’t even Philadelphians.
And if it seems like a microaggression to start a piece about Women’s History Month with an anecdote about the male perspective, have faith: Benner is an ally, an agitator, and clearly a feminist, someone who has called for this injustice to be corrected. This month, along with Ginger Rudolph, Benner co-curated a month-long street art exhibit called #SisterlyLove Project.
The project features 20 portraits created by 10 Philly women artists, and honors just as many living legends as historical ones. It was produced with support from Visit Philadelphia and Live Nation Entertainment.
“There are so many incredible street artists in Philadelphia, and the public space is such a great tool to use to honor people and celebrate people and remember people,” says Benner. “It’s a way to reflect our hopes and vision and dreams for the future.”
Artist Nicole Nikolich, known on social as Lace in the Moon, created a portrait of comedy legend Tina Fey—made completely of yarn. (Yarn!) It’s hot-glued to the eastern wall of Writers’ Block Rehab. Her other yarn creation, at the Starr Garden Playground, pays tribute to … Tara Lipinski? “Tara’s accomplishments allowed me to believe that young girls can do absolutely anything,” Nikolich says.
Nicole Krecicki, a stencil artist and co-owner of the South Street Art Mart (she’s known as Taped Off TV on social), paid tribute to photographer and LGBTQ and cancer activist Tara Lessard, who passed away in December.
Her striking pink-and-black portrait is along the western wall of the William Way LGBT Center. “Tara Lessard was my friend,” Krecicki said in a statement. “She was truly the kindest, strongest, most supportive person I have ever met … I miss her more than I can say. Working on this piece has been difficult for me, but I know she would be giving me just the encouragement I’d need to push through. She was a light for so many of us.”
Along the front of Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room: a portrait of Nizah Morris, the transgender entertainer whose homicide still remains largely unsolved, created by artist Marisa Veláquez-Rivas.
“What I’m hoping is that people start to use the hashtag #sisterlylove to talk about the women in their lives, and how they’ve uplifted and inspired them. I want to hear all of the stories, because I know these are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Rudolph, who was thrilled when Benner reached out to collaborate. “I know Conrad had a lot of qualms about being a man in this space of Women’s History Month, but it’s important for men to celebrate women as well. I want men using that hashtag, and letting us know about the fantastic women in their lives who deserve to be celebrated.”
“If the city or partners want to invest in monumentalizing any of the women with more permanent monuments, that would be incredible,” Benner says. “And maybe this project could work as a catalyst in that way.”
In a moment of life imitating art imitating life, artist Nilé Livingston created a portrait of Jane Golden, the Mural Arts pioneer in whose programs Livingston, as a high school student, got her start. She also created a portrait of Patti LaBelle.
“I grew up in the Mural Arts program, so it was an honor to be able to paint Jane Golden, and I just love listening to Patti LaBelle’s music as I work,” Livingston says. “They’re both iconic to me.”
Most of the works will last only during the month of March, which Benner feels is aligned with the spirit of the medium.
“Street art is an ephemeral art form,” he says. That said, he adds, “If the city or partners want to invest in monumentalizing any of the women with more permanent monuments, that would be incredible. And maybe this project could work as a catalyst in that way.”Lily Yeh by Marian Bailey | Courtesy Conrad Benner