Exhibit highlighting Okanagan women launches in Kelowna

The Empowered Project celebrates leaders and change-makers

An exhibit showcasing women from all around the Okanagan has launched.

The Empowered Project celebrates women, their achievements, and the progression of democracy in the context of women’s rights.

That’s according to artist Ana Eries Luyben, who painted the portraits in the exhibit and unveiled them all on Friday (Mar. 6). She said the project took nine months, from finding the women to reaching out to them and finally painting their portraits.

“I wanted to find women who were leading lives that were bold and that were in a leadership position, and leadership in terms of their own lives, not necessarily just in a socio-economic level but even just trauma survivors,” she said.

“Their stories mean a lot to me, and I wanted to shine a light on them.”

Michele Johnson, a Syilx language teacher, is one of the women Luyben painted and featured. Johnson is helping to revitalize Syilx and has been teaching the language in Penticton and area for eleven years. Four months ago, she brought the beginner’s language program to the Westbank First Nation for the first time.

Johnson said it was an honour for her work to be recognized.

“It feels really validating… it’s such a surprise. I can’t even really speak to how it feels because it’s such a surprise to walk in and see my portrait,” she said.

Johnson said the four-month course will end soon, but her students have asked to move on to the next level soon.

“It feels good for me and my people to be acknowledged, along with the work we do with promoting kindness, love and inclusivity.”

The community has the chance to participate in the project throughout the spring, by drawing a self-portrait or a portrait of someone who inspires and empowers them. The drawings will then be collected at the end of the season and put into a collage canvas. Luyben said the plan is to have the finished collage out by the end of the summer.

The project’s proceeds will also go towards supporting the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society’s trauma counselling services.

Luyben said she chose to support Elizabeth Fry because she felt that her project and the society ultimately share the same goal: empowering women.

“I thought that supporting Elizabeth Fry was just a harmonious way to bring the art community and social change together. I wanted to support them and they wanted to support me, and that I think already speaks to empowerment in such a big way.”

READ MORE: Syilx language program comes to West Kelowna

READ MORE: Salmon Arm celebrates International Women’s Day


Twila Amato
Video journalist, Black Press Okanagan
Email me at twila.amato@blackpress.ca
Follow me on Twitter

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