This International Women's Day, Tory Burch wants women to embrace their ambition and channel it into action. This year, her foundation is hosting its first ever #EmbraceAmbition series consisting of five events at which women leaders across industries will talk about confronting unconscious bias, dismantling gender stereotypes, and empowering other women.
The final event is tonight in NYC at 6:30 p.m. ET — and you can livestream it here. Below, we spoke to one of tonight's speakers, Le'Andra LeSeur, a multidisciplinary artist working and living in Jersey City, NJ. Through her work, LeSeur explores Black female identity and the effects of systemic oppression on Black women, seeking to break down stereotypes and, importantly, reclaim them.
What does embracing ambition mean to you?
"Embracing ambition is about embracing your own idea of success. When I think of embracing ambition, I think of the power of affirmations and how that has led me to be successful in my own right. I think of the women around me who have constantly affirmed my identity, which has led me to love myself without barriers. Without those affirmations, I don’t think I would have had the push to be ambitious in all that I do, because I wouldn’t understand the power of self. Throughout my life, I’ve constantly been told that I was going to be someone. That alone gave me the confidence to trust every decision that I make, because I was affirmed by my family that no matter what I did, my life would always hold value."
How do you challenge unconscious bias in your art, and what is the role of art in dismantling stereotypes?
"Art can create a language that connects people no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation, so it’s really important for me as an artist to focus on how I speak through my work. I am constantly pushing myself to create a language through my work that not only speaks to my identity and the things that inform my identity, but evokes an emotion that allows people to connect and empathize with those things. Though this may be cliché to say, I do truly believe empathy is something that can dismantle stereotypes and unconscious bias."
How have unconscious bias and societal prejudices affected you in your career?
"I am always concerned with how my work is perceived, since I'm speaking on the Black experience and Black identity. Media tends to perpetuate negative stereotypes surrounding Blackness, so I’m very interested in reclaiming that language and pushing other notions of Blackness such as Black joy and elements of love, tenderness, and vulnerability that aren’t usually seen. A huge part of my practice is to reframe how I envision my own body in spaces where the presence of a Black body may not be accepted in its truest form. For instance, what does it look like for me to scream or cry publicly in a space, and how does that reframe my identity as a Black woman? Partaking in these types of performances allows me to rework how people perceive the act of crying and screaming — not as something negative, but as a beautiful form of vulnerability and self-care. These are things that I hope I can push within my work."
What is your favorite piece or project you’ve created and why?
"One of my favorite pieces is a video portrait I did of my mother as part of a recent project, “brown, carmine, and blue." I love this piece because it speaks to the immense amount of love my mother has shown me throughout my life — a love that goes beyond a certain place and time. I gave my mother a prompt to listen to Donny Hathaway’s rendition of “A Song for You” whilst thinking of our time together during my 29 years of life. In this song, Hathaway repeats, “I love you in a place where there’s no space or time. I love you for my life, you’re a friend of mine.” In the video, there is a beautiful connection that my mother makes with the camera, as if she is looking directly into my eyes as she relives these moments between us. It’s the ultimate portrait of love, and something that brings me so much joy to watch because it’s a moment where I can feel my mother’s love and presence, even in her absence."
What is the best advice you've ever received?
“‘Being is enough.’ It wasn’t direct advice, but when a friend sent me that saying, it stuck with me for various reasons. Being myself is and always will be enough. It’s a mantra I repeat to myself daily and something I try to evoke within my work.”
What advice would you give to other women, and specifically women of color who want to challenge the status quo via their art?
“‘Being is enough.’ I hate to repeat that, but I think it’s imperative to think of our presence as something of importance. Black women, specifically, have been pushed to believe that we have to be more than what we already are in order to be seen or heard. We have to challenge that notion. It’s crucial to challenge that notion through the act of just being ourselves. It’s a radical act to believe in the power of just being, and knowing that that alone deserves celebration, honor, and respect.”