SoPARTS Spotlight: Speciwomen

Philo Cohen, founder  // photo credit: Fred Hechinger

Philo Cohen, founder  // photo credit: Fred Hechinger

 What is SPECIWOMEN about? 

SPECIWOMEN is a community of female artists coming together to make an archive of different talents, proving that women have the capacity to be equal to fellow men. My goal is to change the vision and representation of women in the arts. We so often see women as muses and models but rarely as the behind-the-scenes people. 

How did your project come together?
SPECIWOMEN started about two years ago. I’d done an internship at a big gallery and going through the archives of past exhibits, I witnessed a lack of female artists. When I walked around the galleries in Chelsea, I saw few women involved. I began to notice a pattern. It came about with this everyday realization of the need for representation for female artists. I created SPECIWOMEN so that female artists can find each other and also have a place for their own self. This website is a reflection of myself and was a reflection of it when I created it. It mirrors my change, my evolution in society and my discoveries.

Were there any frustrations that you wanted to address? Any gaps you saw in social justice or feminism?
The main goal was to give a place for a global vision of women and to have multiple points of view. I wanted to open it to different languages, photographers, talents, people and create a global reach, to touch people from every social class, background and orientation. That’s the gap we often find, where feminism is seen as too close-minded or “for women only". 

If your project were a book, who would you want to read it?
Everyone! That’s the goal of the project. To be as global, in selection and reach, as much possible. I always ask myself, if I were a reader, whether I’d be interested. I have collaborators that work on that with me, to make it the most readable for as many people as possible.

At first, I was interested in the notion of artists agency. I hoped it would be through word-of-mouth for featuring talents but now that I have a packed schedule, it’s hard to see how people who are not included on the website can also read it. I was just with a friend, a man, and he is making a project about womanhood, and feminism. He reached out to me because I have built a community of women, of all ages. Now, I want to keep that expanding.

 How does “community” affect the decisions you make as an organization or project?
I keep thinking we will add a writing section or divide another section because we keep growing, day by day. Within this first community I chose, I find multiple sub-sections all the time. So I guess to have as diverse content as possible is to be open-minded to the communities I reach out to.

The work you do involves a lot of challenging aspects. What about your project makes you wake up in the morning and want to continue working on it?
The project is non-profit. We don’t make money but I have a strong team of women that help with everything. Once, I was in a hard moment and was starting to put Speci-women on hold but a friend told me that the most important thing about my project was to build archives. It was a precious advice because that really is the strength of SPECIWOMEN. The content and number of women featured, and their diversity, is really what I’m aiming to create. We aren’t superheroes but we can accomplish a lot. At my age, it’s important to put my energy somewhere big. 
Plus, the response of audience, The TED talk, the interviews. I see it growing and these are really motivating. 

Philo Cohen's quick list of influences

Philo Cohen's quick list of influences

What is your motto?
I’m really bad at these types of questions because this is kind of why my project is so inclusive and diverse -- I have many. I learn from everything around me. 
A lot of people say “equality of opportunity” for women and men, as a motto, but i believe that is too abstract. There is a potential equality of opportunity, but I really aim for the opportunity of actions and positions. Equality of life, situation, choice. Opportunity is wordy compared to real actions. 
Also, Feminism should be Humanism that is respected.

What are your next steps? Where would you like to see this project go in the future?
We’re working on a printed edition of SPECIWOMEN. Ideally, it will be bi-monthly but may be an annual edition. 

I just want to keep featuring more girls and find something for the ones that aren’t currently featured. For example, with men or non-binary people. But I can’t solve every issues at the same time. I can focus on something and others can do other things but if we all mix up in the same things we can’t accomplish as much. As we saw in the US, there is a gap between opinions and everyone is yelling at everything but it doesn’t bring solutions.I think we need to be focused; I’m choosing to fight for women to have a spot in the arts and if I see that changing and there is more need elsewhere, then I will adjust my focus. 

How can visual culture influence social change? 
Culture in general reflects society so if society starts to see a visual, that visual influences the behavior of people. We’ve seen it with dictators. It’s really important to have images in our daily lives that are open and inclusive. These images impact the public’s thoughts and behavior. I think that’s how you can create a change in society, in human relationships, and evolution. This affects people and creates an open minded, educated culture.  The right visual culture starts from the beginning, at school and at home. 

Visit SPECIWOMEN here:

Interview conducted in Paris, FR on 13.05.2017. The above text is transcribed from the conversation.