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Two Artists Honor, ‘Channel’ Latina Icons Selena, Rita Moreno, Frida Kahlo

Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres working on a photoshoot.

Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres working on a photoshoot. Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres

It all started with a bottle of Windex, a dirty star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a classic black and white photo of a young Rita Moreno posted on social media. The result was an exquisite photographic and film tribute of six trailblazing Latina icons by New York City based artists Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres.

Torres, a 35-year old television producer and host, transformed into 6 Latina women whose images and work have transcended into legend.

“It was an emotional experience to reimagine women who broke through so many barriers to claim their space in the world,” said Torres of the project.

Torres is shown photographed as legendary Puerto Rican born Rita Moreno, one of the few actresses and singers who have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy. The actress, known to generations for her role as "Anita" in "West Side Story" has also been awarded the presidential medal of freedom.

Torres also "became" the late beloved Tejana singer Selena, who was tragically killed in 1995 and is a 2017 recipient of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

RELATED: Late Singer Selena Among Latinos to Get Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Torres also is pictured as the world-renowned and iconic late Mexican painter Frida Khalo as well as the late Carmen Miranda, the Brazilian singer, dancer and actress immortalized in so many classic 1940s and 1950s films.

RELATED: Our Conversation with Beloved Latina Legend Iris Chacón

She also "became" the late 1940s Dominican film star and beauty María Montes, the "queen of Technicolor" and Puerto Rican vedette Iris Chacón, whose scantily-clad performances in her 1970s variety show mesmerized audiences across Latin America.

Frida Khalo: Artists Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres teamed up to honor Latina icons.
Frida Khalo: Artists Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres teamed up to honor Latina icons. Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres

“It’s important to honor innovators, it’s our history and we need to look at them as examples of women who were able to do things that seemed impossible and implausible at a time when roles for them were non-existent,” said writer, director, and photographer Nieves-Powell. “They were able to crush obstacles and we can find strength from that.”

“Each of these women was epic and powerful in her own right and channeling each of them was healing and empowering,” said Torres, whose stunning transformation into each of the beauties was beautifully captured on film.

RELATED: Rita Moreno: 'Nina's World' Children's Show Reflects True Diversity

The inspiration for the tribute reads like a modern social media love story. On a visit to Los Angeles for work, Torres found herself with extra time and decided to check out the star of one of her favorite actors, Rita Moreno, only to discover that it was covered in filth.

“Rita’s star is in great company and sits next to Bob Marley and Earth Wind and Fire but it’s under a tree and it was dirty,” she explained.

The enterprising home and garden expert and host of a lifestyle show, LatinRemix, Torres went to a local store and bought paper towels and a bottle of Windex and wiped Moreno’s star clean while her followers, including her mom, watched it all on FaceBook Live. Then she posted a classic photo of the icon.

NYC-Based artists Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres teamed up for a project honoring Latina icons.
NYC-Based artists Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres teamed up for a project honoring Latina icons. Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres.

“Rita is one of the greats, I could not just let her star be so grimy and not do anything about it," she explained. Then, quoting Rita Moreno, Torres said, "It was one of those moments, as corny as it may sound, when I thought, "if we all took the time to shine each other’s stars we would rule the world.”

RELATED: Rita Moreno to Receive Prestigious Kennedy Center Honor

Back in Staten Island, Nieves-Powell, who has spent the last decade writing Latina characters for the stage and film, was looking for inspiration for her newest passion, still photography. She read the Torres’ Facebook thread and when she spotted the Time magazine classic photo of Moreno she recalled feeling like she found her next project.

Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres honoring Carmen Miranda, a Brazilian singer and performer.
Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres honoring Carmen Miranda, a Brazilian singer and performer. Linda Nieves-Powell

“I’ve worked with Gitana and love her spirit and style,” explained Nieves-Powell.

A few hours after they hashed out the idea to create a photo tribute, another Facebook commentator suggested that Torres re-shoot the classic Time magazine photo and pay homage to Ms. Moreno. That comment, the women said, was the cherry on top to move forward.

The two artists compiled a storyboard featuring dozens of Latina trailblazers in entertainment and settled on six that would work with Torres’ look.

“One of the things that fascinated me through the process of researching the women was the number of Latinas who have been fearless and confident and who paved the way for themselves and for others,” said Nieves-Powell.

Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres honoring Dominican film star Maria Montes.
Linda Nieves-Powell and Rebecca Gitana Torres honoring Dominican film star Maria Montes. Linda Nieves-Powell

While the project began as a celebration of famous trailblazers, what they realized as they channeled one icon to the next was that the tribute was also about themselves and all the women in their lives, the famous and not so famous -- who have powered their way though obstacles in different areas of their lives—education, body image, relationships, health, science, art, and beyond.

Both artists said that by remembering the pioneers they also celebrated themselves and their potential and possibilities.

RELATED: Frida Kahlo: Two Fascinating Exhibits Celebrate The Mexican Artist

“We all have a little Frida, Selena, Montes, Chacón, Rita, and Carmen within,” Torres said.

The shoot was done in a day and financed by the two women and offered as a gift to Latinas during a hostile political environment when they said it seems that all Latinx contributions are belittled.

“I think about the climate that these women were working in and how they had to create doors that did not exist,” explained Nieves-Powell. “They were talented, fearless, bold, and confident and I feel that parts of them live in me and in all of us,” she said. “They help me understand my Latina identity.”

Nieves-Powell said the project inspired the next one, a celebration of Afro Latina slated for Women’s History Month.

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