Learning to Undress: The 5th Annual Philadelphia RAWards
by Gina Lee
“The courage that it takes for you to undress yourself as an artist means that you stand in front of the whole crowd naked, whether you’re a designer, a musician, a visual artist, painter, photographer. It’s a very humbling process. And only at that moment do you actually get to articulate your talent into a place where it can be seen, loved, and heard.”
Frederick Calalang - Director, RAW Philadelphia
I usually end up somewhere in between Manhattan’s busy streets and overcrowded subways on a mission to find good drinks, new music, cool art, amazing people, and fashion that I’ll never find at my local Macy’s. However, on December 5th I had to look no further than the 5th Annual Philadelphia RAWards held at LiT Ultrabar. After browsing the open room, a room overwhelmed with an enigmatic aura of underground artistry, the commonality gluing this event together was obvious. These local artists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and stylists were all there to deliver ingenious art expression to the city of Philadelphia. I had a revelation: The fact that I’ve never attended a RAW event in Philadelphia could only mean that I needed to spend less time hopping trains to the Big Apple and more time walking the cobblestone streets in the City of Brotherly Love.
RAW: natural born artists is an independent arts organization that provides young, indie creatives with the necessary tools and resources to take their creativity to a higher level and expose their talents to the city. Among the RAW artists showcased at the Philadelphia venue were nine artists deemed, “RAW Artists of the Year”. This year’s RAWard winners included Kory Zuccarelli (Photographer of the Year), John & Brittany (Musician of the Year), Anastasia Alexandrin (Visual Artist of the Year), Emaline Designs (Accessories Designer of the Year), Amanda Danziger (Filmmaker of the Year), Necro FX (Makeup Artist of the Year), Clifford Scott (Hair Stylist of the Year), Singing Circus Woman (Performing Artist of the Year), and Project Runway Season 12 Designer Dom Streater (Fashion Designer of the Year).
After slipping past a painting by RAW artist Jacqui Powell that read, “Fuck Society”, I circled back for more. Through the small crowd gathered around her, I could see the bottom of another painting. It read, “Rape me”. At that moment, I wasn’t sure if she was undressing herself as an artist, or stripping her audience down to uncomfortable levels of vulnerability. How I felt at that moment was exactly how she wanted me and everyone else in the room to feel. She revealed that she wanted people to feel uncomfortable when they looked at her work to bring social issues to light. Then, as a group, we openly discussed the issues of rape and domestic violence. Well done, Jacqui.
I couldn’t help but succumb to the raw emotions of artist Toni Michele. All of her work, including the stunning portrait of Lady Gaga, was full of life. When I asked what inspired her work, she first admitted that she was a bit of a manic, and then shared with me her personal book full of notes, thoughts, and letters. “My inspiration comes from painting things for people I love. It helps me deal with depression,” she said. She flipped to a page in her book, handed me a marker, and asked what I would attempt to do if I could not fail. I see. It was my turn to undress.
As my eyes perused the crowd and my ears soaked up the sound of Michele Karmin, I was just about convinced that this was truly an event only for the “Secret Society of Fantastical-Artsy-Individuals”. Then, I noticed former Governor Ed Rendell standing on the upper platform looking down to the main stage enjoying the sights. Something about that made my night.
And so it seems, to call yourself an artist is to commit to your art, undress for your audience, and reveal the raw emotion attached to your work, just as the RAW artists of Philadelphia have done.