Strong, sexy, fun, beautiful: Oxford women find empowerment in
by Lucy Schultze
Julie Kern, a 24-year-old architect, it's the loosely held bun
she wears on top of her head. For Anna Laurenzo, a five-year-old
tomboy, it's a Star Wars T-shirt and boxer shorts.
And for Clara Lee Arnold, a 33-year-old professional boxer, it's
a pair of fighting gloves, a long black evening gown or lacy pink
They and a dozen other local women donned their favorite attire
Friday when a pair of traveling artists visited Oxford to ask
them, "What do you wear that makes you feel powerful?"
"I don't know what it is, but a long dress and a pair of
heels and I feel I can take on the world," Arnold said. "I
feel just as powerful in this as I do in my boxing gear."
The artists, Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki, interviewed the
women on camera in an upstairs room at the Lafayette County and
Oxford Public Library, and will add the interviews to 50 others
they've collected since last fall. The images, video and audio
from the interviews will be included in a December exhibit in
Durham, N.C., on a Web site and in future exhibits.
"We wanted to do something everyone could get involved in
— and everyone gets dressed in the morning," said Piechocki,
a New York native who specializes in public arts.
Ludwig, who lives in New Jersey, works primarily in performance
art and multimedia projects. The pair met in the spring of 2000
and the current project, "Trappings," marks their first
collaboration as the artist team, Two Girls Working.
"Everyone comes to someone's image with an expectation of
what they're going to say," Piechocki said, "but we
have been blown away by what people have come up with."
During the course of an interview — which is arranged like
a chat session among friends — some women have revealed
things about themselves they never intended to share, Piechocki
said. Some groups have been brought to tears as the story of a
woman's personal struggle surfaced during the interview.
One woman in another city came to the interview wearing an expensive
pair of leather boots, which represented a newfound ability to
provide extravagantly for herself after emerging from a childhood
"Sometimes they come and it's a piece of jewelry," Piechocki
said. "One woman had been a victim of rape and domestic violence.
She bought herself a piece of jewelry as if to say, I'm allowed
to feel beautiful and sexy and to look for love again."
In Oxford, the duo found a wide variety in the clothes and accessories
women here choose to help them feel powerful. Kern, the architect,
said twirling her shoulder-length hair into a bun had become her
trademark in college.
"On the first day of work, I got reactions of 'Whoa!' because
none of them knew me yet," she said. "They said to themselves,
she's kind of quiet but there must be more to her because that
hair is kind of weird."
For Lyn Kartiganer, who returned to school in mid-life as an art
student, a paint-splattered blue knit top and pants equates to
empowerment by freeing her from expectations about how she should
look and dress.
"It's extremely unflattering, it doesn't do anything for
me, but I like it a lot," she said. "I find when walk
on campus people don't know what to make of this. A couple of
them have said, 'You're a mess!'"
After completing the interview session in Oxford, Piechocki and
Ludwig headed north for appointments in Memphis, Nashville and
Knoxville, Tenn. The Oxford session was hosted by the Yoknapatawpha
"Trappings" has previously been shown in exhibits in
New York and North Carolina. The duo said they hope to someday
present the exhibit in Oxford at the Powerhouse Community Arts
and Cultural Center.