Disney Women Series

In September 2015, I went to Disneyland for a vacation. I found the merchandise for the Disney women in very delicate poses – one leg slightly bent inwards, tilted heads, shiny skirts everywhere. They’re all removed from the context of their stories which gave them their personalities.

This series was my attempt to re-capture the strength of these women in the films. So that we remember their courage and compassion and capacity for love.


Merida

Be as strong as the seas are stormy
And proud as an eagle’s scream

I loved this particular lyric from Brave and always envisioned Merida unfettered by the storm, ready to face the perils that come her way.


Tinkerbell

“Hullo, Tink,” cried the wondering boys.
Tink’s reply rang out: “Peter wants you to shoot the Wendy.”
It was not in their nature to question when Peter ordered. “Let us do what Peter wishes,” cried the simple boys…
– J.M Barrie, “Peter and Wendy”

While we were waiting for the World of Color to come on, I asked my husband as a joke, “If you were a Disney princess, who would you be?”

He thought for a very long time, and answered back with all seriousness: “Tinkerbell.”

I was slightly taken aback. “Why?”

The reasons were fourfold: 1. She is second in command to the Lost Boys, and can order them when Pan is away, 2. Has magical powers, 3. She can fly, 4. and can grant flight to others.

And it was then it hit me how incredibly powerful Tinkerbell was, but she was always depicted as the short skirted jealous little fairy. What bothers me is that I never really noticed this until my husband pointed out why he liked her.

So here she is, commanding the Lost Boys, and the second piece in my Disney Women series.


Elsa

I am one with the wind and sky.

Here’s Elsa, in full control of her powers, turning summer into winter.
I made some really minor changes to her costume, because I love slashed sleeves and I’m 92% sure my previous life was a Renaissance lady-in-waiting.


Ariel

What would I give to live where you are
What would I pay to stay here beside you…

When I was 20, I moved to the US. I had expected my assimilation to be an easy one – English was my first language and every almost material thing I consumed was American.

I had a great deal of difficulty adjusting, with people making fun of my last name, and the strange obsession at how “other” I was. I was angry, I resisted change, but eventually I adapted. 

My interpretation of Ariel’s story has changed as I’ve grown. I now greatly admire her courage to leave the world she knows behind and to explore a new one, without resistance or anger, but with curiosity and wonder.

In the original fairy tale, the little mermaid has her tongue cut out, constantly feels as if she’s walking on sharp knives, and her toes are bleeding. I also imagined that the splitting of her tail would have resulted in a scar on her inner thigh. It is quite a testament to her strength that she endures this pain while arriving into a world she knows little about. She did this alone. 

If I were given that choice, I would not be as brave. 


Mulan

“I know my place. It is time you learned yours.”

I always found it rather odd that Mulan’s merchandise always revolved around her in the matchmaker’s dress. She sang a whole song about not fitting into society’s expectations of her, and that dress was one such symbol.

In an ironic twist, we use that dress to market her today because of what we expect young girls should buy into, despite the fact that Mulan’s character is the complete opposite of what that dress represents.

So here is Mulan, finding her place as a soldier, riding with Khan into battle.


Ursula

Now the power of Poseidon has been once again made whole
All the magic of the trident and the shell in my control
And now dark shall reign forever
Over ocean, sea and shoal…

After coming back from Disneyland, I asked my husband who was second on his Disney women list. After a while, he responded with “Ursula”.

The only thing that stopped her from ruling the ocean was a voice, and once she had it, she won.


Rapunzel

Should I?
No.
Here I go.

Rapunzel was the most identifiable character for people in abusive relationships – a person who was emotionally abused but also completely dependent by the only person she ever knew and loved. 

I thought this scene extremely symbolic for those who were trying to get out of those types of relationships – most victims of abuse become isolated through the manipulations of their abuser, and become completely dependent on them to provide their way of living. Most of the time they have no money, no friends, and the abuse makes them believe they’re not worth anything to anyone. To take that first step, to run away into a world with nothing, takes immeasurable amounts of courage. It’s frightening.

So here’s Rapunzel, fearful and hesitant, but taking that first step into the light.

I hope this piece is a small voice of sympathy to those who have weathered that storm.


Esmeralda

“You speak of justice, yet you are cruel to those most in need of your help.”
“Silence!”
“Justice!” 

It’s difficult to put into words how important this scene is to me. The bystander effect is an extremely real phenomenon that occurs far too often, and in other times when you see your fellow man speaking out against an injustice, you shrink away and hope the trouble he attracts doesn’t follow you.

Don’t stay silent. Speak out.


Tiana

“You know how long it took me to save that money?”
“Exactly! Which is why a little woman of your background would have had her hands full, trying to run a big business like that. No, you’re better off where you’re at.”

What Tiana has taught me, quite sadly (and probably what Disney didn’t really intend) was that hard work wasn’t good enough to overcome systemic racism. Tiana got a feel good ending, but I feel like her story has been told many times in real life without a happy ending. There are people who work extremely hard, but never being able to catch up due to the color of their skin.

So here is Tiana, muscles tense with labor, tired and contemplative, and struggling against the system that prevents her success.

This is probably the most symbolic of all the Disney paintings I’ve done so far – the verticality of the walls, the position of her shadow looming over the segregation signs, Tiana sitting right between the divide, and the nearly imperceptible lean of her body to the right.


Maleficent

“We were very conscious, the writer and I, that [the scene where Stefan cuts her wings off] was a metaphor for rape.” – Angelina Jolie

Maleficent here is not hunched over, vulnerable and hurt, but openly accepting what has been done to her – and confidently. She looks at you haughtily, daring you to keep looking, to judge her, to say it’s her fault. And you know that the essence of her is more than just her wings, and more than what she’s lost.


Longing

I think everyone has “that” Disney movie that they love. For me, it was Beauty and the Beast. It was my movie growing up – I bought the collector’s edition DVDs, lithographs and posters, saw it on Broadway thrice before it closed, and the soundtrack has a permanent place in whatever device I hold in my hand today.

Needless to say I am really excited for the live action movie, so here’s Belle and the Beast, aching for each other, and the Beast too afraid to touch her. 

Lots of light/dark elements here, with the Beast emerging from the shadows and Belle sparkling in the light. I combined the designs from the live action film, the animated movie and my own imagination to create this piece. Hope you enjoy!