In Part 2 of this series, I noticed a recurring theme while describing the various venues and exhibits we visited in Bentonville, Arkansas. It occurred to me again and again that art enables us to better understand the perspective of others. That theme continues as I make my way to the Fine Arts Building at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Regardless of your political persuasion, a visit to the exhibit, “Nasty Woman” certainly fulfills the purpose of experiencing various perspectives. It is often said that artists reflect the cultural pulse of society. Of course, no single person, or small group can speak for all. But the Nasty Woman exhibit, like it’s counterparts popping up around the globe, reveals the ways in which many female artists are responding to a political and social environment that feels oppressive for some.
This exhibit showcases multiple themes, materials, and concepts to present the overarching theme of gender inequality. Some of the artwork communicates protest, some celebrates women, some asks for recognition of unrecognized women. Some addresses the roles women hold in communities and families, some of the work addresses reproductive rights or our cultural focus on women’s body parts. Some of the pieces are nurturing, some are aggressive.
As women strive to progress, and demand rights such as equal pay, there seems to be a backslide that has developed in the last two or three years. For example, what do we make of the recent shift in public response to breastfeeding? Why has it become “gross” and “inappropriate”? Women’s nipples don’t differ greatly from men’s, so why is the exposure of women’s nipples not acceptable? We even have a biological purpose for them, yet, in a strange reversal, breastfeeding has become an occupational hazard for many nursing mothers. Regardless of how you view breastfeeding, the issue of judging and legislating women’s bodies remains, and it is one that Mia Hall addresses in her installation, “Mammary Ducts.” Our culture places in inordinate amount of critique, shame and observation on women’s body parts. They are just nipples, see?
One of my favorite pieces is by the Curator of this exhibit, Margo Duvall. The small size, circular shape and material (grainy wood) makes each portrait precious, like little artifacts to be revered. They are clean and direct, and seem to ask for overdue recognition. They are beautifully crafted like the women they present and the disks simply ask to be seen.
Regarding my own entry in this exhibit, there is something nagging at me that, I believe, is worth discussing. While reading the exhibit statement at the gallery entry, I wonder, Did I live up to this ideal with my pieces? Dr. Emily Gerhold writes, “While ‘Nasty Woman’ is not meant to promote a specific ideological position, it is, by both necessity and design, a product of the historical and social movement in which we live. Its artists extend themselves beyond the banality of a headline or sound bite to engage, on a deeply personal level, the urgent, powerful experience of being a woman.”
Actually, I leaned right into the banality of a soundbite. Yup, my work is crass, it is nasty. And I am not proud. But it is a reflection of what I am seeing in our culture today, starting with our highest office. Why are women’s bodies being talked about the way they are? And should we not be outraged? Would it be more proper to whisper our responses to the vitriol, or better yet, silently swallow our responses as if we think the words mean nothing? Or worse, justify it? As if lewd words, and catcalls, and discrimination, and sexual harassment, and being grabbed is all ok and we need to just suck it up and get over it. I admit, I made no effort to make my message pretty, or feminine, or demur. These nine pieces are part of a larger group that simply reflects what I am seeing and hearing about women’s roles, women’s bodies, women’s looks and women’s healthcare policy being discussed ad nauseam in our society and in our governing bodies. The work is meant to draw our attention to language, the meaning and consequences of using words, the deconstruction of words and how language shapes our reality.
While direct language was not neccesarily prominent in the exhibit, I did find much of the work to be narrative. The slideshow above exemplifies how the exhibit provides insight into women’s lives and gives viewers ways of piecing together a story, a relationship, an action or an emotion.
Nasty Woman showcases the work of 36 female artists from across the nation and this post will get way too long if I respond here to all the thought-provoking work. The 36 artists included in the exhibition are: Zina Al-Shukri, Heather Beckwith, Darcie Beeman-Black, Megan Berner, Cynthia Buob, Beverly Buys, Susan Chambers, Melissa Cowper-Smith, Norwood Creech, Nancy Dunaway, Margo Duvall, Melissa Gill, Mia Hall, Louise Halsey, Diane Harper, Tammy Harrington, Heidi Hogden, Robyn Horn Erin House, Jeanie Hursley, Catherine Kim, Kimberly Kwee, Joli Livaudais, Angie Macri, Hannah May, Rosemary Meza-DesPlas, Catherine Siri Nugent Laura Raborn, Emily Rogers, Dina Ropele Santos, Dominique Simmons, Kasten Searles, Katherine Strause, Brittany Wilder, Kat Wilson, and Miranda Young-Rice.