By PATRICIA CONOVER
For Montclair Local

When Studio Montclair called on artists to submit works for a new exhibit, “Mujeres del 2021,” which would celebrate how women have stood strong during the pandemic, Maria Estrela was moved to respond. 

Estrela, who focuses on Black women and other women of color, submitted three pieces for the exhibit, and one was selected. 

“As soon as I looked at the exhibition submission guide, I knew that my work correlated perfectly,” she said. “The piece on display is a self-portrait. The piece represents all women. Women identify with my self-portrait as women, as women of color, as Black women and as single mothers.”

In an announcement, Studio Montclair said the exhibit, which features the work of 34 artists, “celebrates the strength and resilience of women who have toiled tirelessly to hold their families and communities together during the coronavirus pandemic.”

“Throughout this ‘Season of Pandemic,’ women have been holding it down,” exhibit curator Bisa Wendy Washington said in the announcement. “They have been standing up for truth and healing for their families and communities.”

The exhibit includes an international collection of dolls, masks and figurines from the collection of A.K. Mtume. 

The exhibit, Studio Montclair Executive Director Susanna Baker said, calls attention to the work of “mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, and aunties” who never give up when the going gets tough. 

Estrela, of Bloomfield, is originally from Portugal and has family origins in Africa.  

“My focus was photography when I first arrived in the U.S.,” she said. “I realized that there are opportunities here for artists.” 

She took art courses at the Newark School of the Arts, and quickly understood that collage and mixed media would be her focus. 

She participated in artist workshops and attended art shows in galleries and museums. In time she began to display her art online and in galleries. 

“I was looking for a support system, and I found both inspiration and motivation when I joined Studio Montclair Inc.,” Estrela said. “It’s a generous community of artists and the people who support them.” 

The current exhibit, with its emphasis on women and their consistent commitment to their work, families and the community, was a perfect fit. 

“Sometimes it’s difficult to have a conversation about the challenges of being a woman of color, an artist and a mother during this time in our world,” Estrela said. “The ‘Mujeres del 2021’ exhibit speaks to the idea that women can achieve their dreams and be leaders in their families and communities without sacrificing their art and creativity.” 

Baker, an artist who began volunteering with Studio Montclair a few years ago, said the studio aims to create “an intrinsic understanding of art that spotlights both professional and emerging artists.” Its mission revolves around  education, equality and tolerance through art, she said.

“Mujeres del 2021” is on display through Saturday, Feb. 19, at the Studio Montclair Gallery, 127 Bloomfield Ave. Viewing is by appointment only; there will be a closing reception open to the public on Feb. 19 from 2 to 4 p.m.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Susanna Baker's name.