“This is a time we have to record and document. These are stories we will be able to tell our grandchildren, tell them what it was really like. I had a human and artistic desire to document what we were going through with paintings,” said artist and designer Rebecca Moses.
Moses, like so many people in 2020, had life derailed. Her campaign for the Fragrance Foundation was halted after a year of planning. Life for everyone drastically changed under quarantine, and Moses’ daily practice of painting and drawing life as an artistic ritual, forced her to find inspiration in new places: the women across the globe who were carrying the weight of the pandemic on their shoulders.
She turned to her Instagram account, sharing that she would paint portraits of any woman who would share what her life was like during the lockdown. They had to send a 2,000-word entry and a photo about what her ‘new normal’ looked like. Moses got letters from around the world, from over 21 countries, which began The Stay Home Sisters community.
Today, 420 women from around the globe have taken part in what has become a community but also a form of historical archiving through letters and portraits. It is in this sort of unique documentation that the intimate moments taken place in this unprecedented time, will help give nuance and a deeper understanding of how women coped and show resilience in the time of the Covid-19 global pandemic.
“I found all these women so resourceful, so brave, so incredibly determined to beat what they were going through. It was way beyond resilience, so many of these women were single parents with children that needed assistance, and all their services were cut off, they had to become full-time care keepers, some lost income, I can go on and on. These women were remarkable.”
The stories of women Moses captured through portraits were about loss, love, heartbreak, birth, the blossoming of new passions and relationships all in the midst of staying at home—the one thing we could control during the height of the pandemic. She captured the intimate range of everything Covid brought with it inside the lives of women, from the good, the bad, and the silver lining.
Alissar Taremi, Marketing Director at the Fragrance Foundation, is one of the women who is part of The Stay at Home Sisters community. “Rebecca brought women from all over the world together, giving them a platform to share their unique stories during the lockdown. This created a sisterhood and community through Rebecca’s inspiring artwork. In March of 2020 when Rebecca painted my portrait, I was 5 months pregnant in lockdown. I was living in NYC, the epicenter at the time. There was an added level of stress and uncertainty, and with that, a strong dedication to stay home and do whatever it took to keep our family safe,” says Taremi. “Rebecca’s portraits transported me and all of the women to a moment of escape and happiness, and a connection to the other ‘Sisters.’ Rebecca gave all her Stay Home Sisters hope, light and happiness during a dark time.”
Moses, a fashion industry powerhouse with a career that included succeeding Gianni Versace at the Italian label Genny in Milan in the early 1990s was one of the first American designers to enter the European market. Today she is well known for her impressionistic portraiture of women in rich hues, and fantastical stylizing inspired by the limitless capacity of women. She has collaborated with mega brands like Alacantara, the Fragrance Foundation, Mac Cosmetics, Fratelli Rossetti and has been featured in Vogue Italia and Vogue Japan.
“I never imagined what the portrait could mean for these women,” said Moses. “It gave them a sense of dignity, of pride, an immense sense that they were being paid attention to; they felt respected. I never truly understood the power a portrait could have on the subject until I was in the midst of this project.”
Every day, Moses painted women from around the world and The Stay Home Sisters community grew more and more global. “It blew me away every day and it gave me bionic energy to paint. Each letter said that this felt so wonderful, and it made me say wow, did I really do this!?”, says Moses.
Then, in April, the movement grew to more than just the women that were able to stay home.
Linda Valentino, the Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Mount Sinai Health System, was on the frontlines of the pandemic. Her sister, Anne, wrote Moses about her: “‘My sister is not a Stay Home Sister. She’s actually on the front lines of working on the response to the pandemic.’” At the height of the pandemic in New York, Valentino was working at Mount Sinai’s Covid-19 epicenter in Brooklyn, tirelessly overseeing all nursing operations.
Moses wanted to honor Valentino’s work and paint her portrait. With the World Health Organization designating 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife for the year of exceptional work done under the impossibly difficult circumstances. Valentino, Moses, and Linda Levy, president of the Fragrance Foundation came together to develop a way to honor these remarkable women working on the frontline. Moses painted the portraits of 46 nurses of Mount Sinai Hospital where they were exhibited at the Guggenheim Pavilion. Levy, organized to donate 5,000 fragrance and beauty products to help the women who take care of everyone else, take time for some much-deserved self-care.
“When I proposed a plan to The Fragrance Foundation’s membership for donations of fragrance gifts to the Mount Sinai nurses in NYC, our fragrance members’ unanimous response was enthusiastically positive. It was our way to show our gratitude to thousands of nurses who are frontline heroes. Fragrance enhances a person’s mood and is directly linked to the brain’s processing center for memories and emotion. The goal was for Mount Sinai Nurses to enhance their self-care, relaxation and well-being,” said Levy.
As an artist and designer, Moses’ eye has been able to find the nuance, hope, and humanity in the stories of women. It is consistent in her work. She spoke about how she used this lens of positivity and hope in her own life. “Like so many people, I have experienced great loss. It’s a part of life. But it is how we confront those moments that make the difference. When my husband died too young from cancer, I understood that I received two beautiful boys from my marriage and I had to find hope and light for them. I didn’t want any of us to be a victim of circumstances we could not control. Loss taught me a lot about living, how difficult moments can make us better. We push our boundaries because there are things inside us, strengths and insights we cannot imagine that are revealed in difficult moments.”