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The Real Goddesses of Essex County

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Luna Stage, a professional theater in West Orange, New Jersey planned to honor three extraordinary women in their Essex County community during Women's History Month. Galas, legacy lunches and award presentations are standard affairs for most non-profits, but Luna Stage was thinking outside the box. They chose instead to commission goddess portraits of their honorees.

To me, a goddess is a woman living her life with authenticity, passion and power. Inspired and inspiring, a goddess---on earth--- speaks her truth and stands up for what she believes. A goddess on earth has vitality and is beautiful, not because her cheekbones are high, her waist is thin, her breasts are large or her wardrobe is current, but because she recognizes her inner divinity -- imperfections and all.

Thus a theater, named for the artistic and spiritual importance of the moon in women's lives, reached out to me: an artist who has spent the last 12 years exploring, identifying and celebrating ancient archetypes and their relevance to our hectic, contemporary lives. Was I interested in creating Goddess portraits of three empowered New Jersey women as their most beautiful and alive selves? Bada bing, bada boom. You betcha!

Suzzanne Douglas, award winning actress and jazz vocalist, is a fervent activist bringing creative expression into the educational system. Although widely known for her starring roles in the TV show The Parent'Hood, the Hollywood film How Stella Got her Groove Back and the Broadway show The Tap Dance Kid, amongst others, her driving passion now is working with schools to help them incorporate the arts into their curriculum. To Suzzanne, the arts are a critical tool for children to learn a fundamental life lesson she herself embraces: "One must live life on purpose with a purpose."

For her portrait, Suzzanne chose to embody Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom, whose symbol is an owl. Minerva is also considered warrior goddess; a protectress of the arts; and an overseer of intellectual activity.

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Suzzanne wrote:

"Like Minerva, I have always considered myself a guardian of the arts -- one who advocates, protects and cares for the many forms of creative expression that inform and influence humanity. The late Jimi Hendrix said, "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens." From my work in front of and behind the scenes, wisdom drives me to approach all tasks with a spirit of excellence knowing that the arts have the power to change humanity and thus our world".

Cameron Boyle, along with her daughter Giovanna, has run a small NGO named CRIANSA (the Portuguese word for child) in two fishing villages in Brazil for the past 10 years. Based on the simple premise of connecting children through a decade long pen pal exchange, CRIANSA has built lasting bonds between children in these remote villages south of the Equator and students in affluent Montclair, New Jersey. By fostering deep friendships between these diverse communities, CRIANSA is planting seeds of transformation, one child at a time.

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Cameron and Giovanna chose to portray the Brazilian Goddess Iemanjá for their Goddess on Earth portrait. They wrote:

"We are a symbiotic mother-daughter incarnation of Iemanjá, the Afro-Brazilian Goddess of the sea. After working closely together in Brazil over the last ten summers, Iemanjá has infused us with a mutually maternal and nurturing spirit. She gives us her vision, inspiration and the ability to flow smoothly through life's torrential times."

Diana Moise is a 12-year-old middle school student who came to Essex County after her home was destroyed during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 2014-02-24-Erzulie_GoddessonEarthA.jpg She has struggled with language barriers and has had to overcome multiple surgeries for scoliosis, but her inner fortitude is apparent to all. When deciding what sacred myth most resonated with her, Diana commented with the heartfelt confidence of a pre-pubescent girl that Erzulie, the Haitian spirit/goddess of women "is beautiful -- and so am I".

Minerva, Iemanjá, and Erzulie remind us there are many ways to live inspired lives of authenticity, passion and internal power. Some women embrace their intellect; others connect with their communal, nurturing spirit; and others innately know how to dig deep into their own personal wells of strength. What an honor it is to have been commissioned to create goddess portraits of these exceptional women. Please join me in celebrating them, and all the remarkable women we know, in as many creative, inspired and unique ways as there are goddesses on earth.

Goddess on Earth: Women of Essex County, a multimedia immersion installation, opens March 8th at Luna Stage, West Orange, N.J. and runs through May 11th. Please visit www.lunastage.org for viewing hours.

For more information on Goddess on Earth, visit the project's web site, Facebook or Twitter page. Buy the limited edition, artist made book here.