Dancing with the Dawn
A Dance Toward Greater Resilience During our
21st Century Suffrage
by Vicki Milewski
Suffragettes Dancing with the Dawn is a collection of paintings, drawings, video and archival photos honoring the suffragettes of the past to energize the suffragettes of the 21st Century. Getting the right to vote was just the beginning of creating a place where everyone can be valued equally. The suffragettes of the 21st Century dance toward such a place. A place where everyone is known for who they really are and valued equally.
The focus of the collection are large scale paintings showing suffragettes of all races and in different forms in white dresses rejoicing at a dawn moment when Mercury, Venus, the moon and the sun are visible in the dawn sky—a rare moment in time just as women getting the vote was a rare moment in history.
Click on any of the images to see more and dance a little too!
The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote after being passed by Congress in 1919 and ratified by the states in August 1920. 2020 marks 100 years since women have voted in U.S. elections and this art collection honors all those women who came before, those who still work for women's equality and for those who will live in the future.
Each painting and drawing shows a Suffragette holding the sun, Mercury or Venus since each one is a symbol in suffragette history and they are symbols for our current historical moment of continuing to seek equal rights, equal pay and equal representation for women and all people. The recurrence of Venus and Mercury sharing the dawn sky is an astronomical phenomenon which brings another meaning to dawn since it shows an occurrence of rebounding or springing back which strengthens resolution and resilience just as everyone needs today when dealing with the quest to be equals.
Writer Einav Rabinovitch-Fox discusses the historical use of white dresses in her essay “How white became the color of suffrage” [i] Becoming aware of the way visuals could shift public opinion, suffragists began to incorporate white especially during public demonstrations such as pageants and parades. “The National Woman’s Party also adopted a set of three colors: purple, white and golden yellow. White dresses were also easier and cheaper to attain than colored ones. A poorer or middle-class woman could show her support for suffrage by wearing an ordinary white dress and adding a purple or yellow accessory.” The Suffragettes Dancing with the Dawn wear flowing white dresses and have the rays of the yellow sun flowing where their heads should be to show the work toward equality for all being done today.
Dancing with the Dawn: A Critical Perspective
The art collection Suffragettes Dancing with the Dawn was initially created to acknowledge the Suffragette movement that led to women getting the right to vote and the current Suffragette movement seeking equality for women in the workplace, in society and at home. While working on this collection the planets Mercury and Venus shared the dawn sky with the moon and sun in March of 2017 which became a foundational idea about the strength of women and their resiliency. These dawn dancers are current suffragettes who are dancing with joy for the right to vote but who also dance to make sure equal rights are given to all women and people today.
The main inspiration for this collection came to me after looking through pictures of my mother, artist Elizabeth Galaudet Milewski, which were taken when she attended the Women’s Strike for Equality march in New York City on August 26, 1970, on the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage. My mother traveled from Chicago to New York City to participate. Mom was always a staunch advocate for women's rights and her life and actions showed this. Approximately 50,000 women marched in New York and another 100,000 women participated in demonstrations and rallies in 90 cities, 42 states. My mother's actions that day and all the days she lived inspired me to create Suffragettes Dancing with the Dawn.
In 2015 I was fortunate enough to attend the 100th year anniversary Art Exhibit of American Artist Oscar Howe in Rapid City, South Dakota. On view were three paintings I had never seen before that featured dancers.
Iktomi shown above is a young Indian dancer holding a crystal in one hand and an eagle feather in the other. Iktomi is a Native American myth involving spider medicine which some Native Americans feel is medicine which creates technology and culture, sometimes equating the use of electricity as something taken from the Thunder Beings by a man called “Iktomi”. Howe’s use of his Tohokmu (spider web) is shown in this Iktomi painting. I have written essays like Howe’s Paradox and Anomalistic Legacy in which I posit the Tohokmu as a catalyst for present and future technological creations as in the internet, virtual reality and the burgeoning sense of artificial intelligence (AI) becoming on par with human intelligence which I call virtual intelligence (VI). That Howe’s Iktomi shows this dancer holding the past in an eagle feather and the present in a crystal (the basic building block of our computer age technologies) shows again the visionary quality of Howe’s work.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s following quote is ever present in these paintings:
"The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls. Every truth we see is ours to give the world, not to keep for ourselves alone, for in so doing we cheat humanity out of their rights and check our own development."
Other inspirations for this series are from seemingly disparate sources which speak the same to me. Nagarjuna [ii] “touching the sun and moon with one’s hand” references an alchemical equation which can create a free and autonomous spirit. The alchemist must be in the right location and time when the sun and moon are in the sky at the same time so that she may stretch her spirit in order to hold both planetary objects in opposite hands at the same time. This experience produces the strength and resilience to free oneself for the karmic wheel and end indecisiveness regarding the composition of the spirit. Even just being in the right place at the right time without reaching for these two objects can begin a journey of self discovery. There will be four more dancers who will do this reaching between the sun and moon.
Mircea Eliade [iii] also suggests you must “raise” yourself “to another mode of being “in order to move beyond the ideas that there are mysteries that need to be solved since in “another mode of being” they do not appear as mysteries. Fredrick Jackson Turner [iv] agrees with this thinking in that to de-mystify the frontier all one has to do is “go into it” and once there the tools of your past life “may not be useful at all”. In an unusual Eliade move he throws into question everything he has written in the preceding book with the last sentence of the book, “Everything depends upon what is meant by freedom.” and I add freedom without equality is not freedom.
Jules Heffe writes about two paintings from the Suffragettes Dancing with the Dawn collection that can be found in the art exhibit catalog: My Medicine East Meets West[v].
"We end this discussion of the artists who liberated the frontier with Vicki Milewski’s two paintings: Suffragette Dancing with the Dawn Wisconsin and Suffragette Dancing with the Dawn Badlands because it is these two works which brought gallery visitors into the next frontier completely with one person commenting, “I feel like it is me dancing.” These canvases continue the minimalistic works begun by the artist for her Where Our Food Comes From Collection which can be seen as a nod to Gerhard Richter’s work but these dancers take such minimalism to another place. In Suffragette…Wisconsin a Suffragette holds the sun in her hand while Venus and Mercury shine brightly above. In Suffragette…Badlands a Suffragette holds Mercury in one hand and the sun in another while Venus shines brightly. Not only does Milewski capture an experience she explains as a “moment before day begins, the moment that is now right before women are treated as equals in all respects” she also captures the time when Venus and Mercury switch places as the morning star while also bringing a sense of lightness and transcendence that is unmistakably hers, and ours."
[i] How white became the color of suffrage by Einav Rabinovitch-Fox as found in The Conversation February 15, 2019 “Black suffragists, in particular, capitalized on the association of white with moral purity. By wearing white, black suffragists showed they, too, were honorable women – a position they were long deprived of in public discourse. Beyond the struggle for the vote, black women would deploy white. During the 1917 silent parade to protest lynching and racial discrimination, they wore white.”
[ii] As found in Mircea Eliade Yoga: Immortality and Freedom Page 279 “touching the sun and moon with one’s hand” one of the “metamorphisis” mentioned in the—during a section on Alchemists’ abilities—gold+ “free automonous spirit”
[iii] As found in Mircea Eliade Yoga: Immortality and Freedom
[iv] Fredrick Jackson Turner's 1921 book, The Frontier in American History
[v] Galaudet Gallery’s East Meets West Art Exhibit was held as part of their four year art series My Medicine. The catalog may be found at https://issuu.com/galaudetgalleryllc/docs/galaudet.gallery.east.meets.west.ar