Move over, Marvel.
A group of teenage girls from Winnipeg has created a set of trading cards starring a squad of superheroes dubbed The Craftastics: Agents for Social Change. Their mission? To combat the everyday evils that lurk in the halls of high school.
These young ladies are part of the Valley Gardens Grrlz Club, a River East Transcona School Division after-school program. It's a safe, supportive space to relax, make crafts and talk about anything, including sexism, stereotyping, body-issues, depression, anxiety, gossip, peer pressure and bullying.
The Masked Peacock aka Naomi Wall (WAC)
Through Winnipeg Arts Council's Community WITH ART Program, which connects professional artists with community groups to further discussions of community identity, issues and growth through the creation of a public art project, the Grrlz Club was partnered with Jennie O, a local visual artist, who acted as mentor, collaborator and sympathetic ear. Every week, they met in the multi-purpose room at Valley Gardens School.
"When started talking about the project, we decided the artwork should address the issues they were talking about," Jennie O says. "It made sense to do superheroes that dealt with those issues."
Of course, the concept of superheroes came with its own baggage to unpack.
"We talked about stereotyped female superheroes, who are often created by men and hypersexualized," Jennie O says. "Then we discussed what they wanted their superheroes to be."
The group began brainstorming through art activities such as self-portraits and blind-contour drawings. Then they made a trip to Value Village to start making their costumes.
Jennie O was intrigued by The Blondies, a team within the team, who wanted their self-styled superhero duo to wear little black dresses and beauty-queen sashes. Their goal? To challenge assumptions and stereotypes. "They wanted to say, 'Yeah, we're blonde and we're cute -- but we're very smart. We look like this but that doesn't mean we're dumb and superficial.' I thought that was great," she says.
The girls then sculpted clay dolls based on their creations and, with the help of local photographer Talia Potash, did a photo shoot. "The Miles Mac cosmetology students did the hair and makeup, which was great. It was really girls working together," Jennie O says.
The heroes these young women came up with are inspired. The Bookmark's mission is to end discrimination against nerds. Click dismantles cliques and puts an end to gossip. The Masked Peacock, resplendent in her colours, fights racism. Straight Shooter knows you don't need alcohol or drugs to have a good time and Biker Chick says "it isn't big to make others feel small."
Jennie O as The Matriart (WAC)
Jennie O has her own super alter-ego, too. The Matriart works to end gender inequality in the art world.
Naomi Wall, aka The Masked Peacock, is a 15-year-old member of Valley Garden Grrlz Club. She loved being a part of the project.
"I joined the club because I thought it would be a good way to make new friends," she says. "It was really neat creating our own community and making all this art."
Inspired by the costume-making portion of the project, Naomi has taken up sewing.
Both Wall and Jennie O agree that after-school arts programming should be made a bigger priority in schools.
"The arts are under-appreciated," Wall notes. "Sports get all the attention and resources. Being able to create art on this level was really neat."
Indeed, The Craftastics' reach goes far beyond Valley Gardens School. The girls had an exhibit at Platform Gallery in May. The trading card decks were professionally printed and 300 limited-edition box sets have been produced. One hundred are for sale through WAC for $25, the other 200 will be distributed to schools, libraries, resource and youth outreach centres citywide.
People well outside of the city are taking notice, too. Jezebel
and the Bitch
blog, two major U.S. feminist pop culture sites, both ran stories on The Craftastics.
"I think that's a fantastic thing," Wall says. "It gives us a voice outside of our school. And it gives other girls a voice. This is our way to say, 'Don't worry -- it's OK. It gets better. We go through this, too. We're here.'"