‘It’s power’: Richmond festival celebrates female artists

"For the Fem in You" celebrated local women-identifying individuals including Khadijah Ruffini Mahdi (above.) Photo by Jon Mirador

Katherine Noble, Contributing Writer

A pop remix of “Staying Alive” booms through surround sound speakers. Twinkly fairy lights frame the wide, white, industrial space of Studio Two Three in Scott’s Addition. Rows of tables are stocked with a variety of natural beauty products, Tarot readings and affirmation posters — and all are attended by friendly female-identifying vendors. 

An air of contagious positivity permeates the space, with cheerful hellos exchanged across aisles and a gaggle of children bopping along to the DJ’s music. This is ‘For the Fem in You,’ a festival organized by Richmond artist and entrepreneur Andrea Nicole. 

Nicole established the event to promote under-acknowledged women. On Sunday, it honored eight remarkable women including a psychologist, a film curator and several entrepreneurs. 

The executive director of Studio Two Three, Ashley Hawkins, spoke on why this event was meaningful to her.

“We’re here to support our sick creative entrepreneurs in our community, to be here for events that bring people together, to be here to facilitate creative dialogue and discourse in Richmond,” Hawkins said.

In addition to the vendors and honorees, there was free vegan soul food and live performers. First up was Special K, a spoken word poet, with plenty of giggling and powerful poetry that got snaps from an attentive crowd. Her poetry touched on issues of police brutality, womanhood and identity.

“Don’t you get it twisted though,” Special K declared in one of her poems, “If you been tryin’ to subdue and keep us in the kitchen, then we’re comin’ for you, talkin bout equal rights and equal pay— that’s right, it’s a brand new day.”

Special K said her womanhood affects her art. She believes women are very sensual beings and that her expression of this is not well received by men, particularly when she is outspoken.

Jini Valence, who identifies as a queer woman, is the owner of Jini and Tonic. Valence works out of Studio Two Three, whose executive director, Ashley Hawkins, was honored at this event. 

“We’re here to support our sick creative entrepreneurs in our community, to be here for events that bring people together, to be here to facilitate creative dialogue and discourse in Richmond,” — Ashley Hawkins

Valence says her identity, along with people who identify as women and non-binary, is expressed through and is the center of her art.

“I like to make illustrations about the experience of non-cis men,” Valence said. “I do a lot of political work, so I like to make work about pro-choice efforts and non-profits that dedicate their lives to things like ‘End the Backlog,’ which tests previously untested rape kits.”

Also in attendance to the festival was an artist named Liesl. Her art includes quirky designs often featuring slugs, mushrooms and eyeballs. 

Liesl has previously been a vendor at other markets with Nicole, but it was her first time at this particular event. 

“Feminism is moving things forward for women as a whole, equal opportunities, a place for us to have our voices heard,” Liesl said.

Special K summarized the overall atmosphere of the event. 

“Being a woman is powerful … energetic and beautiful,” Special K said. “That’s what being a woman is. I mean, there are other things, like ‘oh it’s tiring and it’s hard.’ But when you really just love yourself and embrace the femininity — it’s power.”

For the Fem in You
Poet “Shawna Speaks Raw” performs a spoken word piece to empower women and to embrace being themselves. Photo by Jon Mirador
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