In her photo series “Lideresas,” (“Female Leaders”), Spanish photographer and architect Ana Amado explores the struggle for equality and women’s rights in the world.
Although women over 65 play an essential role as a support for their partners, their children, their grandchildren, and other elderly people, they are often invisible to our society. Amado’s project is shining light on them by switching male protagonists with the women of “Las Lideresas de Villaverde” in iconic photographs.
Amado’s work has been awarded internationally and exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the London Royal Academy of Arts, the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, and several other institutions.
We spoke with Amado about political engagement, her artistic journey and what she’s working on next.
AWT: Ana, what inspires you to create your personal projects?
Ana Amado: Life in all its complexity—as the Latin proverb says, “Nothing human is alien to me.” And within that complexity, lately, I’ve been especially attracted to everything related to the lives of women. I believe that we are going through a very important historical moment in the struggle for equality and the rights of women in the world—I feel personally involved.
What’s the story behind the “Leaders” project?
Behind the project, you find a tremendously human story that can interest many people, especially mature women. As a woman and a photographer, I had been looking to develop a visual essay on gender inequality for some time.
We can all see the enormous inequality between men and women, especially in positions of responsibility and leadership, and it remains overwhelming. Great strides have been made, but much is left to be done. This imbalance becomes even more evident in older women, especially those over 60, the largest absentees in command posts. Although they continue to play an essential role as a support for families—taking care of grandchildren, their partners, and elderly people—to society, they are invisible. This project aims to turn our gaze to them.
In this project, we have recreated and flipped iconic or very recognizable photographs of male leaders in every area of society, from politics to the arts. The new protagonists are now “Las Lideresas de Villaverde,” a group of older women from a working-class neighborhood in Madrid, who together develop activities that seek to give a voice and spotlight to women.
I met the “Lideresas” a year and a half ago. They are women who have been educated in traditional values and much of their lives have been spent in the environment of Franco’s dictatorial regime. Despite all of that, they decided to make time for themselves and developed activities related to studying new technologies and social demands for equality. They met each other in senior centers promoted by the city of Madrid. In that space, they formed the “Lideresas de Villaverde” group, whose work had a growing echo in Madrid’s society. The group has contributed to the empowerment of older women who were often forgotten by feminism. Personally, I felt indebted to the women of my country who struggled to make things easier for the next generations.
If you could give your past self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would give my past self many pieces of advice. But if I have to choose only one, it would be this: “Just do it. Now.”
What challenges have you encountered on your artistic journey that you didn’t expect at the beginning?
My first and most difficult challenge has been dealing with myself. Excessive internal criticism can block any artistic initiative, even before starting it. Of course, you have to be critical of your work, but it’s about finding the right balance.
I also believe that it is increasingly difficult for any artist to find the time and tranquility necessary to develop any type of artistic creation. When you have to earn money each month to pay your bills, in the midst of the growing noise to which we are subjected, it’s difficult to find that creative space. It is paradoxical, moreover, that despite the existence of a large amount of information, sometimes an artist does not know “where to start” and what are the steps to follow to find a place, professionally speaking.
Do you think that artists are obligated to be socially and politically engaged?
Not necessarily. I believe that each artist belongs to his or her time and must be aware of the historical circumstances of that moment and be well-informed. But I do not believe that all art must necessarily be the result of social or political commitment. Of course, through art you can communicate an idea in a very powerful and profound way that can contribute to transforming reality. If, as an artist, you feel drawn to a social topic, you can try to improve things by bringing those topics to light through your work.
What was a moment when you were very discouraged? How did you get past it?
Well, the way of art is complicated—full of ups and downs. There are many occasions when things don’t go well. You haven’t fulfilled your expectations or those of a client, you are creatively blocked and you feel that you haven’t advanced, you don’t receive good feedback when you apply to contests and artistic residencies, you can’t figure out a good balance between income and expenses, and so on. Many things happen that might make you want to stop. But if you feel a passion to develop your creativity, to let out your ideas, I believe it is your duty to do so—to follow that path despite everything that may keep you from it. If you see it as something inevitable, almost as a mission, then you realize that this, in the end, is like any other job with its good days and its low days. You just have to keep working without dramas and with commitment. The reward will come.
Tell us about your next big project.
Right now I’m developing several projects at the same time.
Following the theme of the role of “invisible” women in the world (such as those in the “Leaders” project), I’ve just recently lived with a community of Dominican nuns living in the Monastery of Sancti Spiritus of Toro in Spain. I gained an interest in documenting the lives of women who voluntarily decide to live apart from the world to try to save it through prayer. Before entering the monastery, I didn’t understand their vital approach, but after living together and talking a lot with them, although I do not share their views, I understand more of their ideas.
This year, I also developed an audiovisual project with a great Spanish artist, Laura C. Vela. The result will be formalized in an audiovisual piece and photo series. A group of contemporary women dancers play dance in emblematic spaces in Madrid, adapting and endorsing the language of urban dance—which is fundamentally masculine—and translating it in a very personal way to the female body and space.
Following another line of photographic research, I am currently working on long-term projects where architecture plays a fundamental role as a container of fascinating stories, such as the virtually unknown 300 settlement towns that the dictator Franco developed in Spain during the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.
I also have another architecture-based project called “Children of Architects” in which I photograph the minor children of architects in works designed by their parents. So far, I have photographed the children of almost 20 teams of Spanish architects and this September I will continue the project in Japan, hoping to expand the range of action to other countries.