Nancy Smith’s in-home studio is bright and airy. The early afternoon light streams in through a large window, illuminating the intricate paintings of women that adorn the walls. It’s these paintings—along with an accompanying piece of short prose—that will be the centerpiece of Smith’s upcoming exhibit, Women Speak.
In conjunction with International Women’s Day, the FRANK Community Gallery in Chapel Hill is hosting the Women Speak event on March 8-10. It will feature a reception on the eighth as well as a reading on the tenth. Smith’s paintings will be on display throughout the weekend.
Smith has been painting women for years and said that her art is a reflection of what is happening inside her, echoing her sadness, elation, or level of inspiration at the time of its creation.
This past February, she decided she wanted her art to serve as inspiration for other women to reflect within themselves as well. “I wanted to invite women writers to say more about their experience being a woman in this day and age,” she said.
She reached out to the writing community and received 300 submissions from 100 women living in nine different countries, reaching as far as Sri Lanka, India, and New Zealand. Thirty winners were selected by Smith and a panel of judges and the winning prose will be displayed alongside the corresponding painting at Women Speak. The art and prose are also being made into a book titled Women Speak: Portraits, Poetry, and Prose of the Feminine Experience, which will be launched at the show on March 8.
Many of the winners will read their piece at the event, including Virginia Ewing Hudson, a cello teacher at Meredith College. Hudson said that while winning was thrilling, it felt good just to offer her voice by submitting.
“Nancy’s art is really evocative for opening your voice,” she said. “Women’s voices need to be heard and this is a wonderful way to open up and say what you want about something you’re holding inside yourself.”
Smith said that the women’s submissions were incredibly honest, vulnerable, and inspiring.
“[The writing] covers the gamut of emotions in terms of what women are dealing with,” she said. “How they’re treated, how they view the world, and how they see what’s happening politically and what it all means. It’s really pertinent to the times we have lived in, especially in this last year.”
Smith said that this whole experience has affirmed her faith in women to be supportive of one another and make change; she hopes that this exhibit encourages more women to speak their minds and to open up about their experiences.
“I want women to walk away with inspiration,” she said. “I want them to walk away with validation of their experience, that they are not alone, that a lot of women are facing the same issues they are facing. I want them to walk away with this sense of ‘I can speak my truth, too’ and even if some people aren’t willing to hear it, there is a community of women that are.”
Before this project began, Nancy Smith said she didn’t know how to publish a book, nor did she know how to evaluate submitted writing. But through the support of many women she learned how, and that support is something that Smith will take with her long after the Women Speak event has ended.
“There was so much I didn’t know how to do,” she said. “Every step of the way there was a woman to help me. It really validated my experience with women as a group, and how supportive they are of one another.”