Above: Kamala Harris with Tina Duryea. Photo by Kristen Blush.
It didn’t take artist Tina Duryea long to start offering products featuring Kamala Harris’s portrait as the nominee for Vice President. That’s because she had painted Harris’s portrait a few years ago, as part of her “Sheroes” project, which celebrates the accomplishments of notable women including Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Michelle Obaman and more. Plus, Duryea had supported Harris in the primary and made extensive use of paintings of her.
“Everything about her story and her being picked makes me cry,” said Duryea, a long-time Harris fan, in a Facebook post after Harris’s selection was announced. In a separate post, she addressed those who talked about her ambition as if it was a shameful thing.
“We need to protect women who say ‘Yes!’ to ambition. We need to celebrate them and recognize that a woman who gets as far as Harris has gotten has overcome more obstacles than ANY of us can fathom.”
Ready for this Moment
Duryea has made promoting women her passion, as can be seen by the myriad products she creates honoring them. Her most popular piece is a dress, a full-body political statement emblazoned with checkerboard portraits she’s painted of women. The dress never fails to attract a crowd of selfie-takers when she wears it to a rally, gallery opening, or party these days.
Women like us should be sparking conversation. We should be taking up more space.
Duryea began painting the women she calls “Sheroes” in 2017 when, still feeling devastated by Clinton’s lost bid for the 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.
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.’”
Duryea is certainly not invisible, when it comes to the women whose portraits she paints.
Here’s part of a note from Hilary Clinton that still thrills her to this day: “I am honored to be among the many amazing female public servants whom you chose to paint.”
For more information about Duryea, and to purchase Kamala Harris and “Sheroes” merch, check out tduryea.com.
A version of the article was originally published in March 2019.