Celebrating the Women of Resistance

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Vicki Chelf working on her portrait of Noor Inayat Khan. Photo by Phil Lederer.

When Vicki Chelf began her Women of Resistance series in 2021, her goal was simple: to commemorate women who fought against fascism during World War II by painting their portraits.

She would use collages of vintage French newspaper from the era, which she rescued from a waterlogged basement in the town of Aubin, as the backdrop; her memories of a small museum dedicated to the French Resistance as fuel. But while the show was well-received, it ultimately did not have the impact Chelf wanted. Something was missing. “People liked seeing the paintings,” she came to realize, “but they’re moved by the stories.” Two years later, the project returns as “Celebrate the Women of Resistance,” a two-night-only live storytelling performance with original music and dance, hosted next weekend by the First Presbyterian Church in Downtown Sarasota.

Roughly 90 minutes long, the show plays out as a series of four vignettes, each highlighting the antifascist activities of its subject and each brought to life by a different artist or collaboration. Fans of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will recognize Brentney J. as famed jazz performer Josephine Baker, who smuggled messages across enemy lines for the Allies while touring Europe. And sharp-eyed Sarasota Ballet fans may recognize the work of former Ballet Master James Jordan, who created original choreography to tell the story of American film star Hedy Lamarr, who just might have revolutionized torpedo guidance systems at a time when German U-boats posed a serious threat. Rounding out the show are the stories of French Resistance fighter Andree Peel, performed from original choreography by Suzanne Caesar, and British resistance agent Noor Inayat Khan, told through poetry and dance by Megha Vaid. Music for the performance is composed by Warren Slim Williams.

“I’m hoping these stories will give women the confidence that they can make a difference in the world,” Chelf says. “So many people feel powerless today, but these stories are so empowering that you can’t help but feel hopeful.”

“Celebrate the Women of Resistance” runs two nights only, Oct 20 & 21, at First Presbyterian Church. Tickets: $27. The celebration continues Oct 22, 6pm, at Art Avenue Gallery in Downtown Sarasota, with the unveiling of a new painting by Chelf.

Pictured: Vicki Chelf working on her portrait of Noor Inayat Khan. Photo by Phil Lederer.

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