Philadelphia portrays its Sisterly Love

A street art campaign asked 10 women artists to depict 20 inspiring Philadelphia women.

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Nicole Nikolich (left) and Symone Salib install Salib's wheat paste portrait of Santigold on a wall of The Filmore. The work is one of 20 in the #SisterlyLove Project, celebrating 20 Philadelphia women during Women's History Month. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Nicole Nikolich (left) and Symone Salib install Salib's wheat paste portrait of Santigold on a wall of The Filmore. The work is one of 20 in the #SisterlyLove Project, celebrating 20 Philadelphia women during Women's History Month. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Symone Salib first saw Santigold perform last summer at the AfroPunk festival in Brooklyn, and she was blown away.

“I had no idea what the experience was going to be like,” she said. “I was moved! I was, like, wow!”

Salib was so moved to create a large portrait of Santigold — who grew up in Philadelphia — and wheatpaste it to the stucco wall of the Fillmore in Fishtown. She rendered the musician in thick cartoon lines, dressed in a pink, cheetah-print turtleneck on a background of yellow glitter.

“I think Santigold is walking art,” said Salib. “She always has a rocking outfit or a cool hairstyle or something out of the box, and you’re, like, ‘I don’t know if I could do that, but she looks really cool doing that.’”

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Salib is one of 10 artists depicting 20 inspiring women being portrayed, graffiti-style, at various locations around Philadelphia. The series of commissioned works is part of the #SisterlyLove Project, a campaign by the city’s tourism marketing arm, Visit Philadelphia, marking the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Nicole Nikolich stands beside her yarn bomb portrait of Tina Fey, installed on the side of the

Last month Visit Philadelphia lobbied City Council to pass a resolution to adopt the moniker “City of Sisterly Love,” amending the city’s traditional tag as the city of Brotherly Love.

“We’re known as a city of Brotherly Love and we know it encompasses everybody,” said co-curator Ginger Rudolph. “But it’s really great to take a moment to think about the women who create these communities where we have lived, inspired, and nurtured one another.”

Rudolph worked with Conrad Benner, who runs the popular street art blog, to select the ten local artists, all of them women, and match them with 20 female figures both contemporary and historic.

Ginger Rudolph and Conrad Benner, co-curators of the #SisterlyLove Project, lead a bus tour visiting some of the 20 murals created to honor Philadelphia women during Women’s History Month. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The figures include well-known women like Tina Fey, Patti Labelle, and Marian Anderson. The list also includes more obscure Philadelphians, like Gail Ann Dorsey, a revered bass player who was a longtime session musician for David Bowie, and Graceanne Lewis, a 19th century Quaker anti-slavery activist and ornithologist.

A portrait of Tara Lessard, a photographer who documented the LGBTQ community, is wheat pasted over the Pride and Progress mural at the William Way LGBT Center. The work was created for #SisterlyLove Project by a street artist who works under the name Taped Off TV. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Unable to get a sustainable position teaching in natural science, Lewis made a living as an illustrator of birds, spending her final years in Media. The white-edged oriole (icterus graceannae) is named after her.

Marisa Velázquez-Rivas’s portrait of Nizah Morris is wheatpasted to the wall of the Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room. The transgender entertainer was murdered in 2002. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Other women we had no knowledge of, but it was so much fun digging into their history,” said Rudolph. “Like Dr. Anandibai Joshi, the first Indian woman to come here to study at what is now Drexel University.  She was the first Indian woman to get a medical degree. She took that back home and supported a community of Hindu women.”

Yarn artist Nicole Nikolich, who goes by Lace the Moon, created yarn portraits of Tina Fey and figure skater Tara Lipinski, who at 15 was the youngest American skater to win the Olympic gold in 1998. Nikolich laced yarn through a chain link fence at 6th and Lombard into the figure of Lipinski dressed in the iconic blue outfit she wore for her historic Olympic win.

Nikolich is relatively new to Philadelphia, having arrived 3 ½ years ago from Virginia to take what she describes as a “corporate job.” That lasted two years before she quit to pursue art and wait tables.

She says she is inspired and sustained by the community of artists and women she found in Philadelphia.

“When I think of Sisterly Love, I think of how much I have grown as a person through the people I have met here,” she said.

Artist Nilé Livingston painted Mural Arts founder Jane Golden as one of two subjects she painted for the #SisterlyLove project. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Visit Philadelphia’s City of Sisterly Love campaign includes another street art installation in New York City by wheat paste artist Amberella, as well as a major ad buy in Times Square.

The twenty portraits in Philadelphia will stay up for as long as the weather and sundry urban elements allow.

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