Growing Pains: Maria Marshall

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Maria Marshall (b. 1966, Bombay, India)

Although Maria Marshall began her career as a sculptor, her fascination with film led her to explore the short video as an art form. Marshall credits filmmakers with inspiring the lean visual narratives she so adeptly maneuvers. Despite frequently featuring her own children in fantasies inspired by parental fear, her video works and photography never quite fall into the category of autobiography. They straddle the division between personal and universal, serving as “concise metaphors” for the fear lurking in each viewer’s subconscious. Marshall’s surreal images promise narrative but deliver further intrigue. The often dreamlike atmosphere of her photos and video works hint at a setting where the imaginary blends with reality, and assumptions clash with truth.

Maria Marshall, Future Perfect, 1998; Iris print, 56 x 39 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.

The Artist’s Voice:

“My work is very constructed, and I have learned a great deal from filmmakers in this regard. . . . I also look for clean visual information. The language of film is full to the brim of seduction. I like beauty and I like to draw in the viewer, so I get very moved by certain sequences.”

“I purposefully try to create confusion, to muddle the boundaries. . . . I try to make films that go directly to the psyche, that probe it and manipulate it.”—Maria Marshall, in an interview published in Maria Marshall (modo Verlag, 2002)

Revival Highlight:

According to Marshall, her oeuvre stems from fear. Her works featured in Revival are no exception. Striking images of a toddler smoking, a boy in a fur coat, and a rat standing on a child’s head not only catch the viewer’s eye, but may also elicit outrage or concern. Through the portrayal of her own children in apparent moments of endangerment, Marshall plays on traditional conceptions of children as innocent or passive, asserting their personhood with unconventional tactics. Even as she plays on the audience’s expectations, however, she admits her own concerns as a mother unable to protect her children from the harsh realities of the outside world.

Future Perfect (1998) further reflects these complex feelings about growing children. While an adult might scrutinize rats due to the fraught associations they summon, the boy seems accepting of the live rat standing on his head. Whether this reveals his trusting, childish innocence, or a mature acceptance beyond what adults expect, Marshall reveals an incongruity between children and their parents, a dissonance that forms the core of her work in expressing anxiety while acknowledging a parent’s tendency to project. The title of the work alludes to the grammatical tense for a completed future action, hinting at an ambiguous but foregone conclusion.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Xiaoxiao Meng is the summer 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Call of the Wild: Polly Morgan

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Installation view of Polly Morgan's Receiver in Revival

Installation view of Polly Morgan’s Receiver in Revival

Polly Morgan (b. 1980, Banbury, Oxfordshire, England)

Growing up in the countryside, Polly Morgan always had a pack of unusual pets keeping her company, forcing her to learn about living with animals. Only after she moved to London did she realize how fascinating their bodies became in death. Today, Morgan makes a career out of crafting haunting sculptures from taxidermy animal carcasses.

Morgan’s work straddles scientific and artistic disciplines. Although she follows in the footsteps of scientific convention, she endows even this process a meaning beyond preservation. Her work forces viewers to contemplate death even as she incorporates taxidermy animals into vibrant sculptures, marking a simultaneous rejection and acceptance of death’s place in life.

The Artist’s Voice:

“I’m not a morbid person, I’m actually really optimistic. I hate the fact that death hangs over us all our lives. I see [the aesthetic of the body] as a raw material to work with; with no soul left, the body becomes a beautiful ornament.”—Polly Morgan, interview in The Independent

“Taxidermy is an ultimately futile effort to harness nature, it allows us to manipulate and control the body of an animal in a way we would struggle, or in my case would not wish, to in life. . . . Most objects can be art; a urinal, a bed, etc. A dead animal presents a problem in that it decays and can therefore only exist a finite amount of time before being altered irrevocably. Taxidermy has thus allowed me to incorporate animals in my work the way other sculptors use ‘found objects.’”—Polly Morgan, interview in Broad Strokes

Polly Morgan, Receiver, 2009; Taxidermy quail chicks and Bakelite telephone handset, 9 x 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Ilene Gutman; © Polly Morgan; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Polly Morgan, Receiver, 2009; Taxidermy quail chicks and Bakelite telephone handset, 9 x 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Ilene Gutman; © Polly Morgan; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Revival Highlight:

Receiver (2009), featured in Revival, illustrates Morgan’s capacity for duality in her work. In this piece seven chicks poke their heads from the receiver end of a telephone, beaks agape. Though their tiny heads and nestled bodies imply a tender helplessness in youth, the mere sight of their open beaks evokes a grating shrill in the viewer’s mind.

Morgan incorporates the natural into the artificial, drawing revealing parallels between the chicks and their unexpected nest. Despite representing the possibility of tender interpersonal connection, too often technology like the telephone becomes an outlet for aggression rather than affection, replacing compassion with confrontation. Even as the chicks evoke nurturing tenderness in the viewer, their implied proximity to the listener’s ear makes their pleas a confrontational disruption to gentler discourse. By combining the natural and artificial Morgan draws discomfort from what should represent convenience, calling into question the intention and functional use behind communicative technology such as the phone through deliberate visual dissonance. 

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Xiaoxiao Meng is the summer 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: August 11, 2017

According to a new USC study, women remain underrepresented in film, both on screen and behind the camera.

The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times shared key findings from the analysis of 1,000 scripts:

  • 4,900 male characters to 2,000 female characters
  • Men spoke in 37,000 dialogues, while only 15,000 conversations included women
  • Seven times as many male screenwriters as female
  • Almost 12 times as many male directors

Front-Page Femmes

Artsy profiles Isabella Stewart Gardner and celebrates her “irrepressible personality.”

Justine Varga, winner of the 2017 Olive Cotton Award, uses traditional photographic processes without a physical camera.

Sheila Hicks discusses her public installation at the High Line.

Patricia Renee’ Thomas’s paintings probe the historical exploitation of the black body.

The Washington Post’s The Lilly interviews the leaders of social media for Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, Lanae Spruce and Ravon Ruffin.

Julie Mehretu, a MacArthur Foundation “genius,” is executing a monumental new commission for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

NMWA announces creation of a Judy Chicago Visual Archive at the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center.

The social media initiative #VisibleWomen helps women in the comics world gain visibility.

Australian painter Barbara Blackman reflects on her life in a new documentary.

Cindy Sherman made her Instagram public.

Aphra Behn (1640–1689), one of the first English women to make a living writing, was also a translator and Royalist spy.

Barbara Hammer, a pioneer of queer experimental film, talks about her experimental multi-media work exploring the female experience.

A museum dedicated to Yayoi Kusama will open in Tokyo this October.

The Women’s Suffrage and the Media online site helps users explore how various forms of media messaging shaped the suffrage crusade.

Ava DuVernay will produce a television series based on Octavia Butler’s Dawn.

AIGA discusses the prevalence of the gender gap in design fields, according to AIGA’s 2016 survey.

Shows We Want to See

Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, a new exhibition at the MoMA, brings together more than a hundred works by women artists working in abstraction.

Between the Lines is the first retrospective of Chiharu Shiota in the Netherlands, provoking dialogues about universal experiences and our personal relationships.

Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery showcases poet Sylvia Plath’s visual art in One Life, ranging from watercolors to collages.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Falling into Place: Charlotte Gyllenhammar

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Charlotte Gyllenhammar (b. 1963, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Although Charlotte Gyllenhammar studied painting in art school, her work consists primarily of film and three-dimensional installations. Even after this shift in medium, a painterly sensibility continues to inform her work. Gyllenhammar often incorporates projections and sculptures to create spatial complexity. Her work invites the viewer into an emotionally charged dialogue through intense contrast between images. By employing the surreal, she masks the familiar in an unfamiliar guise, calling the viewer’s concepts of normalcy into question. Her pieces frequently engage with themes such as inversion, sight, and loss of innocence.

The Artist’s Voice: 

“My sculptures are sort of falling, and falling forward, or throwing themselves, and hanging, and hovering, and falling, so I think I have that kind of dynamic—these poles of the more passive, implicit and the more active, explicit.”

“I’m fascinated by that sort of living, sleeping, breathing, resting, and the sort of ultimate point, death. . . . And you don’t know when, you don’t know how, but we know that. But I find it very hard to accept that we are going to die. That’s kind of an unbearable thought that I tried to get used to.”—Charlotte Gyllenhammar, interview in The Parlor

Revival Highlight:

Unrest and repose become bedfellows in Charlotte Gyllenhammar’s Fall (1999), a two-screen video installation featured in Revival. Projected on the ceiling, the video shows a woman hanging upside down, her extravagant dress billowing around her. On the floor another projection shows two men sleeping in a narrow bed. Their occasional movement seems less like an acknowledgement of her frustrated struggles and more like a mundane nighttime reflex.

Charlotte Gyllenhammar, Fall, 1999; Video installation, dimensions variable; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Charlotte Gyllenhammar; Installation photos by Stefan Bohlin

Charlotte Gyllenhammar, Fall, 1999; Video installation, dimensions variable; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Charlotte Gyllenhammar; Installation photos by Stefan Bohlin

Rather than employ traditional narratives, Gyllenhammar seeks meaning in contradiction and contrasting visions. While the woman appears trapped by her suspension, the unconventional angle makes it seems as though she is floating freely. Her solitary struggle contrasts with the men’s peaceful companionship, lending a sense of complicity to their rest. Yet even as this unawareness becomes an accomplice in her discomfort, their innocence shields them from even acknowledging her.

Gyllenhammar’s fascination with sight and seeing comes into play as well. The screens function as windows, allowing viewers to observe the characters like voyeurs. What visitors see reverses the dynamics of vulnerability. Although the hanging woman appears vulnerable through the unwilling exposure of her body, she retains agency in the camera’s concealment of that exposure. The men slumber in a safer environment, yet suffer complete exposure to the audience, completely open and vulnerable in their lack of awareness. Attentive to the unseen as well as the seen, Gyllenhammar crafts a scene that leaves viewers hanging, unsettled but ultimately intrigued.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Xiaoxiao Meng is the summer 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Fabric of History: Sonia Gomes

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Sonia Gomes, Untitled, from the “Torção” series, 2015; Fabric, wire, thread, and beads, 80 x 123 x 14 in.; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Sonia Gomes (b. 1948, Caetanópolis, Brazil)

After beginning her career at the age of 45, Sonia Gomes quickly gained recognition in the global art scene, participating in exhibitions around the world and influencing a younger generation of Brazilian artists. Gomes uses a range of fabrics, thread, and rope—often gifted or found—to create multi-dimensional sculptures. These structures twist, spiral, converge, and taper in organic and graceful ways that recall biological forms and sacred objects. Her use of fabrics carries collective and personal stories embedding the idea that something passed could be brought back to life again. Gomes’s works are inspired by her family, including her maternal grandmother, whose traditional dress and rituals as an indigenous spiritual healer and midwife influenced her, and her father’s family that worked in a textile factory.

The Artist’s Voice:

“Sometimes I think my work might look like my insides because it’s extremely visceral. . . . And I make art by necessity. I think if I haven’t been doing what I do, I would have gone crazy or I might have been in trouble because I can’t live without it…so I discovered life through art.”

“For me, art is about truth. I don’t get politically involved in Afro-Brazilian movements. I participate through my work and now that I’m starting to receive recognition I think it’s important to give my contribution.”—Sonia Gomes, in a video interview with Arterial

Sonia Gomes, Untitled from the series “Torção,” 2015; Fabric, wire, thread, and beads, 95 x 42 x 12 in.; Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Revival Highlight:

Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection, four sculptures by Gomes are on display in Revival. These sculptures project from the wall, hang from the ceiling, and, in some cases, wander onto the floor. In an untitled work from 2015 from her series “Torção,” Gomes uses fabric, wire, thread, and beads. She binds, knots, and sews together opaque and shear fabrics that evoke the domestic realm while simultaneously forming symbolic re-creations of the body.

Gomes explores issues of identity and memory. Historically, black women have been at the bottom of Brazil’s social strata experiencing limited visibility. Addressing this subject figuratively, Gomes’s sculpture hangs from the ceiling, hovering before the viewer as an insistent placeholder for the absent or unseen body.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Wonder and Whimsy: Anna Gaskell

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Anna Gaskell (b. 1969, Des Moines, Iowa)

Installation view of three of Anna Gaskell’s photographs next to a Louise Bourgeois sculpture

Installation view of three of Anna Gaskell’s photographs next to a Louise Bourgeois sculpture; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Anna Gaskell studied at Bennington College for two years before attending the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received a BFA in 1992, and later earned an MFA from Yale University in 1995. Gaskell is renowned for her work referencing mythology, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Her carefully staged photographs contain ambiguous narratives with no clear beginning or end. Viewers may detect a sense of anxiety, pleasure, or mischief in her works. Gaskell’s background in filmmaking and performance are evident in her use of dramatic lighting, awkward body distortions, and severe camera angles.

The Artist’s Voice:

“Trying to combine fiction, fact and my own personal mishmash of life into something new is how I make my work. . . . I try to insert a degree of mystery that ensures that the dots may not connect in the same way every time.”—Anna Gaskell, in NMWA’s See for Yourself card

“My muses have always been characters from novels or films or iconic figures from the past. I was drawn to these people for different reasons—because of their wisdom, intelligence, sense of humor or sense of adventure. . . . Over time I gathered them for inspiration, sometimes conjuring them back to life again for companionship.”—Anna Gaskell, letter in This Is Tomorrow

Anna Gaskell, untitled #26 (override), 1997; Chromogenic print print mounted on Plexiglas, 15 1/4 x 23 5/8 in.; NMWA, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Anna Gaskell

Revival Highlight:

Five chromogenic prints, drawn from her series “override” (1997) and “wonder” (1996-97), as well as untitled #104 (A Short Story of Happenstance) (2003) are on view in Revival. In “override,” the scenarios are drawn from Gaskell’s own imagination and portray several manifestations of Alice. In untitled #26 (override), the model pictured in her blue pinafore and yellow cotton dress appears to plot a revenge or escape, seeming both innocent and spiteful, a duality that mirrors the emotional confusion often experienced by adolescents.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

4 Questions with Amy Sherald

Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald (b. 1973) spoke with attendees at NMWA’s eighth Artists in Conversation program earlier this year. Designed as an intimate in-gallery discussion, Artists in Conversation offer visitors the opportunity to explore the museum and engage with artists and their works in the galleries. Sherald discussed her background, artistic process, and works featured in the museum, eliciting questions from program participants.

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

How did you first develop your signature backgrounds?

“I was trying to work my way through some ideas, and I actually tried to destroy a painting. I poured turpentine all over it and I just left it on the floor. I came back the next day and there were parts of it that had this speckling effect that I really liked. It’s important that these figures don’t exist in a space or time. I feel like the backgrounds work for that—they exist in a liminal space.”

Can you talk about the way you portray skin color?

“In graduate school I was creating self-portraits. . . . I painted people in different colors. One was black, one was a raw sienna, and one was a yellow ochre. It was a way of deconstructing race and asking that question about what race means to us as a people. The gray was an under color and I decided to leave it. Mars black and Naples yellow make these beautiful skin tones. . . . Each [figure] is a different color because each background is a different color. Green comes through, blue comes through, pink comes through. It just worked.”

What was it like studying with Grace Hartigan?

“She was a great role model—especially the stories she would tell about what her life was like as a woman trying to be an artist, working with [Jackson] Pollock and [Willem] de Kooning, and the tension that was there…the way they would put her down sometimes. All those things were learning experiences.”

Amy Sherald speaks to Artists in Conversation program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald speaks to program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Would you ever consider making smaller works?

“I really love drawing with charcoal…so, yes, I have. But then when I think about the work being in a museum. For me, the bigger the better because I want to take up that space and…I don’t want anyone visiting the museum and wondering if there was an Amy Sherald in there. I want them to know it was an Amy Sherald.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: July 28, 2017

News outlets buzzed about the status of women in the music industry this week. The Guardian explores why it is so difficult for women artists to reach the same level of super-stardom in the pop music industry as their male counterparts.

NPR releases their list of the 150 greatest albums by women in an effort to start a conversation and help rewrite the history of popular music.

Front-Page Femmes

The Washington Post features Equilibrium: Fanny Sanín, on view at NMWA.

art21 shares a video of Liz Larner discussing color distortion and Minimalist Tony Smith’s influence on her work.

In reaction to destructive art by men, Judy Chicago created colorful smoke art. “There was a moment when the smoke began to clear, but a haze lingered. And the whole world was feminized—if only for a moment,” recalls Chicago.

Elizabeth Peyton referenced photographs of Angela Merkel from the last 30 years to craft a portrayal of the chancellor.

Marguerite Humeau’s latest series, “RIDDLES,” explores surveillance in the modern age.

Jung Lee installs a series of neon light sculptures on foggy snowbanks and reflective beaches.

Marrie Bot talks about her best photograph, which depicts bath-time on an ancient pilgrimage through Andalucía.

Shaina Kasztelan’s “candy flip gone wrong” aesthetic exposes commercialized femininity.

Under The Skin traces the trajectory of Chiharu Shiota’s career of making large, ephemeral-looking installations incorporating performance and symbolic items.

Pussy Riot plans a new theatrical production exploring “the intersections of art, social justice, and prison reform.”

Faith Ringgold stars in Cecile Emeke’s new short film When The Ancestors Came.

Studies of recent box office successes of women-led films suggest a shift in representation is possible.

Photographer Scarlett O’Flaherty focuses on a “social documentary practice and slow-journalism through an anthropological approach.”

The New Yorker explores science-fiction writer Octavia Butler’s tenth novel, Parable of the Sower, and considers the dystopian classic’s relevance to today’s society.

Shows We Want to See

Katzen Arts Center of American University will host I AM, an exhibition showcasing the work of 31 women artists from Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, and more.

MoMA will highlight Tarsila do Amaral’s modernist paintings celebrating Brazil’s mixed culture, which laid the foundation for the Brazilian Neo-Concretists and abstract artists of the 1960s.

The Interference Archive features Take Back The Fight: Resisting Sexual Violence from the Ground Up, an exhibition of responses to gender and sexual violence through printed ephemera.

Revolution & Ritual: Three Mexican Women Artists at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College presents work by Graciela Iturbide, Sara Castrejón, and Tatiana Parcero. The Los Angeles Times interviews Graciela Iturbide.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Lasting Impressions: Women Printmakers in Early Modern Italy

With household names such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Tiepolo dominating museums, it would be easy to believe there were no women artists working in Italy during similar time periods. Though they faced more challenges than their male counterparts, women artists held a strong presence in early Italian art.

Elisabetta Sirani, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, 1655-1665; Etching on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Elisabetta Sirani, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, 1655–1665; Etching on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Elisabetta Sirani and Diana Mantuana (also known as Diana Ghisi, Diana Mantovana, or Diana Scultori) are two women who had successful careers as artists. Sirani (1638–1665) was a Baroque painter and engraver from Bologna. Considered a prodigy, she created more than 200 works of her art during her short life. Mantuana (c. 1535–c. 1590), born in Mantua, Italy, was a Mannerist engraver who also had a very productive career.

These two women, born nearly 100 years apart, share striking similarities. Both were trained by their fathers—a typical entry point into the arts for women. By the age of 19 Sirani was the breadwinner of her family, supporting her parents and three siblings when her father became too ill to work. Mantuana also proved her business savvy, using her engravings to advertise the architectural work of her husband, thus securing him commissions.

Both Sirani and Mantuana made strong statements by signing their works—a rare practice for a woman artist. Because Sirani painted quickly, critics made accusations that her father was lending a hand. In response, Sirani opened her studio to the public to observe her at work. Even Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici came to watch her paint. Mantuana also placed an emphasis on her signature, becoming one of the first women to receive papal privilege. Essentially a copyright granted by the pope, this protected her work from being copied and secured her name to every work that she printed.

Diana Ghisi, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (after Giulio Romano), 1575; Copperplate engraving on paper, 16 1/2 x 23 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Diana Mantuana, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (after Giulio Romano), 1575; Copperplate engraving on paper, 16 1/2 x 23 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

NMWA’s collection contains engravings by both Sirani and Mantuana. Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1575), based on a Raphael tapestry designed for the Sistine Chapel, is one of Mantuana’s most famous prints. In the corner, she dedicated the engraving to Eleonora of Austria and stated her dual allegiance to Rome and Mantua. Two engravings by Sirani, The Holy Family with St. Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist and Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, are in NMWA’s collection. In the latter engraving, Sirani stated that it was inspired by Raphael, much like Mantuana’s work.

These pioneering women also received recognition from their male peers. Mantuana is one of the few women mentioned in Vasari’s 1568 version of Lives, in which he says he “was astounded” by her work. Sirani won the favor of biographer Malvasia, who referred to Sirani as “the glory of the female sex, the gem of Italy, the sun of Europe.”

Sirani continued to help elevate other women artists, opening what is considered to be the first art school in Europe for women. There she trained her two younger sisters and at least 12 other aspiring women artists.

—Chloe Bazlen is the summer 2017 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Returning the Gaze: Lalla Essaydi

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #20, 2014; Chromogenic print mounted on aluminum, 30 x 40 in.; Courtesy Miller Yezerski Gallery © Lalla Essaydi

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #20, 2014; Chromogenic print mounted on aluminum, 30 x 40 in.; Courtesy Miller Yezerski Gallery © Lalla Essaydi

Lalla Essaydi (b. 1956, Marrakesh, Morocco)

Born and raised in Morocco, Lalla Essaydi now lives and works in New York. She received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in 2003 and has since participated in several major exhibitions around the world.

Essaydi’s intricately staged photographs not only draw the viewer in with their scale and beauty, but go further to challenge 19th century Orientalist mythology, which portrayed Arab women as sexual objects for male fantasy. While she often imitates the poses of Orientalist painters, she controls the gaze. Essaydi portrays her subjects clothed and covered in henna calligraphy. This stylistic choice challenges the tradition of calligraphy as a male-dominated art form.

The Artist’s Voice:

“In my art, I wish to present myself through multiple lenses—as artist, as Moroccan, as traditionalist, as Liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite viewers to resist stereotypes.”—Lalla Essaydi, artist’s website

“There are so many layers to my work, and some of them are just for me. If the viewer does not discover it on their own, I’m not going to talk about it because I have always been told how to behave, what to say, how to see things, how to think, and I don’t want to impose that on the viewers by stating everything. I do what I do for myself, before anything else. ”—Lalla Essaydi, interview in Africa is a Country

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Triptych, chromogenic prints on aluminum, 150 x 66 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Miller Yezerski Gallery, Boston, and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NYC

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Three chromogenic prints mounted on aluminum, 66 x 150 in. overall; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Badger Mars, Sunny Scully Alsup and William Alsup, Mr. Sharad Tak and Mrs. Mahinder Tak, Marcia and Frank Carlucci, and Nancy Nelson Stevenson; © Lalla Essaydi

Revival Highlight:

Two of Essaydi’s photographs from her “Bullets Revisited” series are on view. A recent acquisition into NMWA’s permanent collection, the triptych Bullets Revisited #3 (2012) portrays a reclining woman, whose skin and garments are covered in henna calligraphy, against a background embellished in silver and gold bullet casings. By presenting this photograph in a triptych format, the fragmentation of the body denies a voyeuristic view of the figure. In Bullets Revisited #20 (2014), she cocooned her seated model with a cape encrusted with similar casings. Essaydi explains her use of bullets as a commentary on violence against women in a new post-revolutionary era following the Arab Spring.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.