When artist Tina Duryea attends a rally, gallery opening, or party these days, she’s often mobbed by dozens of strangers who want to talk or take selfies with her. That’s because, typically, she’s wearing a garment that functions as a full-body political statement: A dress of her own creation, emblazoned with checkerboard portraits she’s painted of women who inspire her, like Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and her personal idol, Hillary Clinton.
Women like us should be sparking conversation. We should be taking up more space.
“When I wear the dress, I know people are going to have questions,” says Duryea, 46, who lives in Connecticut, and who spent almost two decades painting commissioned portraits for private clients (as well as landscapes, animals, and abstract floral compositions) before her art turned political. “But that’s good. Women like us should be sparking conversation. We should be taking up more space.”
Duryea began painting the women she calls “Sheroes” last year when, still feeling devastated by Clinton’s lost bid for the 2016 presidency, she decided to honor her chosen candidate by painting her portrait—a head-and-shoulders 8×10” closeup, in oil. Making it, Duryea found, made her feel better, and somehow closer to Clinton.
Hitting a Nerve
It was only once she’d shared the portrait on social media, though, that Duryea realized she’d hit a nerve—especially among other women over 45, who worried that, like Clinton, their accomplishments and legacy might be “erased” from the cultural landscape. The flood of positive responses, and clamor for more images of powerful women, prompted Duryea to turn her single portrait into a series.
After making, more than 200 portraits , Duryea is doing a brisk business in selling ‘Sheroes’ merchandise.
Now, more than 200 portraits later, Duryea is doing a brisk business in selling both her original paintings and the “Sheroes” merchandise she’s created with them—posters, calendars, tote bags, phone cases, and, of course, the especially bold dress. Her social media following has exploded, and fans have been photographed wearing and brandishing Sheroes products all over the country. In fact, NextTribe editor Jeannie Ralston wore a Sheroes dress to speak at SXSW.
“It’s my way of helping to build a community,” Duryea says. “It’s a way to say, ‘Here, look at the important work we women are doing, just when we are supposed to be turning invisible.’”
For more information about Duryea, and to purchase “Sheroes” merch, check out tduryea.com.