Painting the Women of the 112th, Powersuit by Powersuit
It didn’t start out as a political statement, exactly. Emily Nemens, a writer and illustrator in New York, simply wanted to take on a new creative project, preferably in watercolor. For four years already — between jobs at the Met, and later, at the American Institute of Architects — she’d done a series of watercolor mouth paintings: beautiful, complex images of plump rosy lips, some with objects clenched between them. She’d also illustrated comic books, and published a collection of short stories.
But she’d always been fascinated by political portraiture and the way it could convey the personality of a subject. She’d also noticed how much of that portraiture (save for a few French revolution portraits, and some queens of England) lacked women. And so, in early 2011, right around the time Michelle Bachmann hit the national stage, Nemens set out to paint the female members of Congress — all 94 of them. “I want to honor the breadth and diversity of women in power, as well as bring attention to certain disconcerting characteristics about them,” Nemens says. “The rainbow of power suits, the big hair, the gaudy jewelry and toothy smiles … and, of course, the fact that they collectively are only 17 percent of Congress.”