Behind the image: Cellphone snaps lead to transformative moment


The image “Who’s the Fairest?” is a photograph of a young girl, face unseen, standing in front of a mirror wearing an oversized adult hat, pajama bottoms, and brown boot-like slippers, thinking about what she might be like as an adult.

This work by Lisa Marum is part of the exhibit, “Women’s History, Transformation, Embodiment” with 14 other artists from the Riverdale Art Association at the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture.

“Once they said that the theme was going to be either women’s history transformation or embodiment, it just struck me that this is transformation,” Marum said. “Every one of us at one time or another thinks of being someone different, in other words, to be transformed. And, children, in particular, often think of how their lives would be different if they were all grown up, and this is just a prime example.”

The young girl in the artwork, Marum said, is her granddaughter Abbie, wearing her summer pajamas.

“She’s a real free spirit and saw her great aunt’s hat and just decided that this would be a lot of fun to see what I looked like wearing this,” Marum said. “She actually had her little brother’s slippers on. Usually, she wears bright pink slippers. She was just having fun imagining what she would look like as a grown-up and someone wearing something wearing fancy.”

Marum calls transformation a two-step process. First, you have to image it, and then you have to take action. That’s exactly what her granddaughter did.

Marum began taking pictures more than a decade ago when she traveled with her now late husband. She eventually starting using a digital camera, forced to make the transition during a trip to Kenya where she had a hard time finding places that sold film.

Abbie’s picture? Taken with her cellphone.

“That is the beauty of cellphones, that you are able to capture something just at the moment,” Marum said.

Initially, Marum said she planned to use another image that didn’t include Abbie. But as the exhibit started coming together, she realized her granddaughter’s photo best expressed the sentiment of the exhibit’s theme.

Society for Ethical Culture leader Jone Lewis said the organization selects themes to challenge and stretch artists and visitors alike, getting them to think and take positive action.

During its Women’s History theme in March, some of the exhibited works did exactly that, Lewis said.

“We had a couple of talks relevant to that — learning about some black women abolitionists who are often neglected in history classes,” Lewis said. “And then about some of the clashes between movements against racism and sexism — how feminism has sometimes been racist or ignored racial justice, and anti-racist movements have sometimes been misogynistic or ignored women’s rights.”

Aija Sears, one of the art association vice presidents, said all the artists displaying their works sought to complement the theme and find innovative ways to express their visions. The various pieces ranged in styles from etchings, pastels and oil on canvas.

Sears’ work “Transforming” is on display, giving a fanciful feel as a woman walks with a dog, fish, and an assortment of animals and plants.

Participants such as Mabel Cohen’s piece “Three Bathers” is done in a Cubist-inspired style using acrylic paint, while Orhan Alpaslan uses oil on canvas in his work “Mia.” It shows a woman reading at a restaurant booth with a hot beverage placed on the table in front of her, giving an old-world look of a painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

A reception for “Women’s History, Transformation, Embodiment” will take place on April 30 beginning at 5 p.m.

The exhibit, which runs through May, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 12:30 to 1 p.m. For more information, call (718) 548-4445.

“I want people to know that there is a wealth of art and culture here in Riverdale,” Sears said.