NEW YORK CITY–Beneath layers of red, gold, green, blue and violet oil paint, and through the translucent images of blossoming flowers and green foliage, the portraits of 15 women appear. These women have come to New York from all walks of life and from countries as diverse as Tunisia and the Philippines. In celebration of cultural diversity and female empowerment, fine-art photographer and artist, Marlene Luce Tremblay, reveals the luminous essence of each of these women through their portraits, which will be on view in her exhibition “Women of New York” at the United Nations headquarters in New York from March 20th – 24th.
Ms. Tremblay was born in Canada but is currently based in New York. She not only works full-time at the United Nations in the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, but as an artist she has also exhibited her work in galleries in Montreal, New York, Paris, London, Tunisia and Algiers. She studied at the Dawson Institute of Photography in Montreal and has been “capturing the light” through her photographs since the 1980’s. “Photography is all about the lighting,” she said. “That’s what brings the emotion to a picture.” The subjects of her work have included scenes of nature, images of majestic ruins from ancient civilizations and cityscapes.
Her artwork has often placed an emphasis on bridging the gap between cultures, specifically between those of the Western and Arab worlds, which the artist believes is especially widened during times of political turmoil. In her “Iconic Egypt” series, which will be on view at the Florence Biennale in October 2017, Ms. Tremblay photographed the majestic ruins of Ancient Egypt, always focusing on the powerful effect light has on the ruins of a grand civilization that is long gone.
For “Women of New York” Ms. Tremblay shifted her focus to humankind. Since 2009 when the artist moved to New York, a city whose very fabric is made up of diverse cultures, she has formed lasting friendships with women of all ethnic backgrounds. “My hope is to show that diversity among people is enriching,” she said. “I love to photograph people, I like to capture the essence of a person in that portrait.” .Just as Ms. Tremblay aims to find the connection between the Western and Arab worlds, through the painterly portraits of each woman, the artist intends to show that which binds us across races and cultures: our common humanity.
Ms. Tremblay’s artwork is created using a unique artistic process she calls pintography. Once she photographed each of the women featured, she digitally tinted their portraits and then overlaid them with an image of nature, such as tree branches, pink tulips, or green fern leaves. “I used layers of images on each portrait from the natural world to symbolize how, just like nature with the seasons, we are constantly changing and transforming,” she explained. Once the images were enlarged and printed on canvas, she painted over them with vibrant hues of oil paint. The combination of layered photographs combined with the brilliant colors she paints in result in dreamy, ethereal compositions that seem to transcend reality. Always focusing on the light, rather than emphasize the subject’s external beauty, Ms. Tremblay reveals something deeper: the subject’s radiant essence that emanates from within.
Louise Laheurte, who used to work at the UN and currently volunteers as a counselor at New York University, is one of the 15 women featured in the exhibition. Mrs. Laheurte has purchased two of the artist’s works. “There is something luminous and somehow very human that emanates out of her paintings,” she said. One is entitled “Blue Windows” and depicts a façade of blue window shutters from a home in Sidi Bou Saïd in Tunisia, and the other portrays an image of trees with the sky peeking through. “It’s tinted red and it’s a little surreal,” she said of the piece. “It really spoke to me, having lost my husband not that long ago. It’s very uplifting, and the message also transmits,” she said. The pintograph is entitled “Entre ciel et terre, il y a l’amour toujours l’amour” (“Between heaven and earth, it’s love, always love”).
Through “Women of New York” Ms. Tremblay also aims to highlight the importance of female empowerment. Afaf Konja, who served as a spokesperson for the United Nations and is also the subject of one of the portraits said of the works: “I think human beings are thirsting for a sense of inspiration. There’s so much regression in the world– religious regression, political regression, economic regression. Women in particular not only contribute to their nucleus, their family, but they also contribute to their community and then therefore, in a broader sense, the world. I think what will make this project raise awareness of how powerful beautiful women can be in this world is showing examples of real, amazing women, working from the heart and using their talents for the betterment of themselves, their families and the world.”
The women in this exhibition are people whom Ms. Tremblay has come to know while living in this city; some she met through her job at the UN. They are from places as diverse as Bulgaria, Canada, China, Poland, Italy and Colombia. Among them are an urban designer and founder of a non-profit organization, a psychotherapist, a restaurateur, a Tunisian artist, a journalist and a fashion stylist who too often witnesses the struggles people face with their own body image. “I want to show that you don’t have to be a CEO making loads of money to make a contribution,” Ms. Tremblay said. “It’s more than that. These are real, normal women with strong human values who contribute to make this a better place.”
Vincenza Di Maggio is a freelance writer based in New York. She has an MA in History of Art and Archaeology from New York University and covers arts and cultural events in the city.
All photos courtesy Marlene Luce Tremblay: 1st, “Viv in Blue Leaves”; 2nd “Afaf in Bubbles”; 3rd, Marlene Luce Tremblay; 4th “Melance & Peach”