Site icon The Alchemy of Imperfection

A Note From the Director


Cara Cruickshank

As an artist, social entrepreneur, and #MeToo advocate, my inspiration for The Alchemy of Imperfection stems from an evolving, life-long inquiry into the expression of the wild feminine within cultural, socio-political, spiritual, and familial traditions.

I am deeply interested in the question: “What does an autonomous, free life look like for women?” Our Western culture tends to see itself as paving a new path for women. However, the truth is that many indigenous cultures and philosophies—for example, the Iroquois Nation which thrived for thousands of years right here in New York—created sustainable models of social justice that valued and often prioritized women’s roles and contributions. I look to these models for source material, influence, and methodology…

My passion is bringing diverse people – socio-economically, culturally, and professionally – together to explore through art and community conversations important and difficult questions that are difficult to talk about and to answer. When we come together in the spirit of curiosity, discovery, and deep listening, that’s the space in which possibility, vital ideas, and new vision is born.

I grew up with a split cultural identity as Brazilian-American, influenced by a broad mix of cultural and religious backgrounds in a rural, working-class community in the Catskill Mountains of New York. I developed an early appreciation for the beauties of nature from my father, a passionate outdoorsman, and the freedom of authentic expression, as modeled by my mother and grandmother, both fiercely independent Brazilian women.

The maternal influence on my development as a woman, artist, researcher, and organizer has been strong and ongoing. My mother was a craft decorative artist who built her own business as an entrepreneur and currently directs a nonprofit healing center. My grandmother enjoyed a 30-year solo career as a prominent singer and guitarist of folk music from South America and Europe. Her international success led to her becoming an official cultural ambassador from Brazil to the world. My great-aunt was the first female gynecologist in Brazil, and my great, great-grandmother was a Brazilian journalist – a taboo profession for a woman in her day. Additionally, my grandparents reversed traditional gender roles in the 1950s and while my grandmother led her international career, traveling constantly, my grandfather was the working, stay-at-home parent who supported her endeavors from behind the scenes.

My work in feminism started inadvertently 12 years ago on a trip through Brazil, where I experienced the male-dominated Afro-Latino culture of the northeast. I had been awarded a private grant to create an independent, educational project with youth in Bahia. As I traveled through various rural communities and engaged Brazilian children and teachers in conversation, I was increasingly shocked by how little education girls received and the prevalence of sexual exploitation they were subjected to from a young age. This predominantly Catholic culture optimized the “virgin or the whore” mentality. Sexual assault and harassment were frequent occurrences for girls and women, in many cases, tolerated by the community and considered a social norm.

I chose to use my grant money to create a five-week girls’ empowerment program on a rural island with no motor vehicles. I worked with 23 students, ages 9-14 years. The term “Girls’ Empowerment” was unknown at this time, even by European ex-pats living in the community and some were suspicious of my controversial project, fearing that I would corrupt the youth. The students embarked on an immersive self-exploration of the four elements (earth, wind, fire, water) through poetry and dance, improvisational theater games, and regular group conversations on unconventional topics for girls such as, “What are your dreams for the future? What do you want to be when you grow up?” Many of them had never been asked this question. The final performance, which the students named “Feminine Evolution”, had to be by invitation only because locals warned, the danger of being sexually assaulted by adult men in the community would heighten if the girls were seen performing on stage. Throughout the project, we were faced with obstacles. The community center that hosted our rehearsals locked us out mid-project and refused to return my phone calls inquiring why. We were forced to reroute rehearsals to take place in my home, which meant a longer commute by foot to classes for the students, who owned no shoes and rarely had adult chaperones.

My experiences living and working in Brazil, though shocking, seemed vaguely familiar. I also began to observe and understand more clearly how male role models influence boys’ behaviors and attitudes toward women and girls, and how women are conditioned to believe that misogynist behaviors are natural in men and to be accepted, not questioned. This entire experience and the residual effects I endured left me wondering what sexist gender norms I may have been conditioned to growing up in American culture and how I might endeavor to uncover their subtleties. I returned home to NY emotionally and psychologically drained, but with a much more vivid perspective on the dangers and limitations, girls and women face in male-dominated cultures where opportunities for equity and change are rare and dangerous.

I needed to understand what I had assimilated within my own American education as a female. I borrowed over 100 books from the library and devoured a crash course in women’s history, self-help, and empowerment. Simultaneously, I assembled a group of female high school students from my hometown to create my next project, On the Subject of Girls, exploring what it is to grow up female in the U.S. today. We created a multimedia play that explored taboo topics and the thoughts and feelings of American teenage girls. This helped me gain a deeper insight into the psychology and emotional responses that girls in my immediate rural community and girls in rural Brazil have in common around sexist experiences and discrimination.
Today, I continue to deepen my understanding of my own experiences in American culture, Europe (where I live half the year), and South America, in relation to the experiences of adult women -and men- in all parts of the world who are questioning their roles and designing new definitions of being female and male. I expand my awareness through extensive reading of women’s global history, engaging in my own writing and traveling, creating artistic forums that encourage public interface, and organizing creative working groups of women and men from diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and nationalities to continue to explore female experiences that defy cultural boundaries and the current paradigms of masculinity.

In The Alchemy of Imperfection, I am looking at social equality from a personal perspective, exploring how my generation – as well as those before and after mine – have been brought up in false narratives that continue to be upheld: I was educated to believe that racism and sexism were over and equality was a reality. Through my work and life experiences, I have found that this is absolutely not true, for me nor for others around the world. The current #MeToo movement loudly reflects that. Through my work, I aspire to bring attention to the effects these false belief systems have on both women and men, individually and collectively, and how we can redefine them. I invite you to share this creative exploration with me, both through The Alchemy of Imperfection and through cultural activism around the world.

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