Superwomen Assemble: Meet the Women Saving Comics

“Images play a crucial role in defining and controlling the political and social power to which individuals and marginalized groups have access,” stated filmmaker Pratibha Parmar. “The deeply ideological nature of imagery determines not only how other people think about us but how we think about ourselves.”

Ashley A Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

Ashley A. Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

FRESH TALK: Who are the new superwomen of the universe? on June 14 will show how comics, in particular, can highlight what a society values through the heroes they revere. The imagery surrounding heroes often reveals ingrained notions and perceptions of people. In the comics landscape, hulking, white male characters are often the ideals—if not the standards—for heroism. Often the imagery surrounding women, people of color, and other marginalized groups skews towards abusive imaginings or stereotypes. Recently, however, more people within the comics community are making strides to subvert that trend.

Meet the women changing the universe of comics at the final Fresh Talk program of the Women, Arts, and Social Change 2016–17 season. Guest speakers include ComicMix.com columnist Emily S. Whitten as the moderator and Carolyn Cocca, author of Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation. Young Adult author Gabby Rivera will discuss her role writing for the queer Latina superheroine of the Marvel universe, America Chavez. Fresh Talk also features Ariell Johnson, the first black woman to open a comic book shop on the East Coast. “There are a lot of black girl geeks in the world but we are not at the forefront,” noted Johnson. “This store is also kind of a statement—we’re here, we’ve been here and we’re going to keep being here.”

Ashley A Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

Ashley A. Woods’s artwork for NIOBE: She is Life

Illustrator Ashley A. Woods will share her experiences drawing for the series NIOBE: She is Life, the first internationally distributed comic with a black woman author, artist, and central character. Woods imbues renderings of Niobe, the title character of the series, with an earthly quality that enhances her supernatural features, while not obscuring her humanity. The series, charting the adventures of the fantastical half-elf, half human warrior, explores issues ranging from racism to religion. Woods’s artwork for the series provides long overdue proof that black women in fantasy comics are not out of place. If anything, they are powerful voices that need to be heard.

Save your spot for Fresh Talk on June 14 to meet the new wave of superheroines entering the comic universe, leading the fight for justice and dispelling traditional stereotypes. Follow the conversation through #FreshTalk4Change.

—Kimberly Colbert is a summer 2017 intern in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Setting the Stage with Sibyl Edwards: Women, Arts, and Tech

Courtesy Sybil Edwards

Sibyl Edwards

The Women, Arts, and Social Change community is gearing up for the next FRESH TALK event at NMWA, confronting questions about women’s innovations in science and technology fields. Sibyl Edwards, a designer, strategist, and advocate for women in technology, has a unique perspective on these issues as the executive director of DC Innovates and president of DC Web Women.

Edwards is a leading voice for advancing women in web-based technology, and she also has a BFA from the Corcoran. Edwards said, “In my case it was art that led to tech.” As an art student she found inspiration in science and medical technology as a means of visualizing disease. “But,” she said, “many times tech leads to art. When a coder is introduced to wearables, like Fitbit, they can no longer only focus on tech. The design is just as important.”

Edwards finds inspiration in technologies like the Oculus Rift virtual reality system, “a completely immersive technological experience, with endless possibilities for artists to build entire environments within a device. Think of it as the new wave of installation art.”

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Occulus Rift technology; BagoGames, Creative Commons

Edwards believes in integrating the arts into education, turning STEM—an interdisciplinary movement focusing on the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math—into STEAM with the addition of art. With the arts, Edwards said, “Space opens up for new types of technology, where aesthetics and design are necessary components for innovation.”

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Natalie Jeremijenko, Photo courtesy Manuello Paganelli

NMWA’s March 2 FRESH TALK event poses the question, Can an artist use science and technology to heal the environment? Speaker Natalie Jeremijenko blurs the boundaries between art, science and technology. She seeks solutions for healing people through healing the environment, and like Edwards, her background combines art and technology. The event explores how these leaders might effect social change and empower others, particularly women and girls, to innovate in science and technology.

Edwards said that the Case Foundation, co-founded by speaker Jean Case, “is an organization empowering millennials to find ways in which technology can be used for social justice and advocacy.”

Yet, opportunity continues to be a key issue when it comes to inspiring young women to enter the tech field. Edwards noted that the media doesn’t reflect strong women in technology, showing a more limited stereotype. “For women who don’t fit that strict mold it can seem impossible to make a career in tech.” Mentors can also make an impact: “Most chief technology officers, especially in startups, are men. So for women just starting out in the field, there are few women in power positions to look up to. We need more role models!”

Attend the upcoming FRESH TALK, on March 2 in person or tune in remotely for the live-stream video feed. You are also invited to add your thoughts about women and tech and answers to the question, “Can an artist use science and technology to heal the environment?” on Twitter by using the hashtag #FreshTalk4Change.

—Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell is the public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Designing Conversations for Change

Braving post-blizzard traffic conditions in D.C., nearly 100 guests attended the museum’s third FRESH TALK—part of the new public programs initiative Women, Arts, and Social Change. On Wednesday, January 27, FRESH TALK: Can design be genderless? featured Netherlands-based designer Gabriel Ann Maher, whose work is on view in Pathmakers, and International New York Times design critic Alice Rawsthorn.

Design historian and critic Rawsthorn kicked off the evening with an overview of design, highlighting the ways design informs everyday life and how it is often gender-biased. She discussed the increasingly eclectic and fluid concept of gender identity and how it impacts design culture through digital technology.

Gabriel Maher speaks at NMWA; Photo: Kevin Allen

Gabriel Maher speaks at NMWA; Photo: Kevin Allen

Maher, a designer who identifies as gender fluid, investigates gender through design media. Maher dissected issues of the Dutch magazine FRAME to reveal perpetuated stereotypes of “male” and “female”—from article titles to depictions of men and women designers.

Maher explained how designers direct people’s self-presentation—through clothing that accentuates body shape, or through the act of sitting, in which people claim or relinquish space.

In one of the night’s most repeated and tweeted statements, Maher declared, “Design is inherently genderless but it is designers who create gendered objects.”

The presentations wrapped with a moderated conversation led by NMWA Director of Public Programs Lorie Mertes. Rawsthorn and Maher explored ways that design could become more inclusive—from genderless bathroom signage to TSA body scanners (which are based on an algorithm for male or female forms). The speakers reflected on cultures that embrace and revere multiple concepts of gender. Both pondered how the internet can be a tool for change.

Fresh Talk speakers with guests during Catalyst cocktail hour; Photos: Kevin Allen

FRESH TALK speakers with guests during Catalyst cocktail hour; Photos: Kevin Allen

At Catalyst, a cocktail hour with a topic and a twist, guests became impassioned participants in a conversation sparked by the presentations. They became friends with fellow attendees, discussed perspectives, and focused on actionable steps for change. Here are a few highlights:

1. Seeing the world with new eyes.

Guests felt more aware of their built environments. They began to consider how the world is constructed and how design can create obstacles for gender-fluid people.

2. Empathy is the name of the game.

Attendees introduced themselves and shared details of their identities—which many had never considered aloud. Guests gained a greater understanding of the LGBTQ community, discussed how gender stereotypes are ingrained, and considered the impact of gender labels.

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Left and right: Participants discuss gender and ideas for change; Photos: Kevin Allen

3. Your ideas for social change matter.

Guests were surprised to have such meaningful conversations about the world from inside a museum. Instead of a traditional Q&A, guests provided their own strategies for change. Via comment cards, they completed the phrase “My idea of social change is…”

  • “discuss, discuss, discuss.”
  • “acceptance. Great event!”
  • “to be inclusive.”
  • “looking for new spaces and forums for conversation and questioning.”

The conversation continues online with #FreshTalk4Change. Visit the museum’s website to watch event videos. The recordings of FRESH TALK: Can design be genderless? will be available soon.

Don’t miss the next program, FRESH TALK: Natalie Jeremijenko, Wednesday, March 2. Artist and engineer Natalie Jeremijenko teams up with Jean Case and Megan Smith to discuss “Can an artist use science and technology to heal the environment?”

—Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell is the public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Blurring Boundaries: Contemporary Design

“Design has had one unwavering role as an agent of change” incorporating new developments—in science, technology, or culture—for the better, says Alice Rawsthorn, design critic for the international edition of the New York Times.

Gabriel Maher, Courtesy of Alwin Poiana

Gabriel Maher, Courtesy of Alwin Poiana

What kind of impact will the gender-queer design discussion continue to have? Can genderless design help move contemporary society and culture toward a more positive, welcoming, and safe environment?

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Genderless bathroom sign

Today, genderless, gender-queer, and gender-fluid identities have an increasing presence in mainstream consciousness. The New York Times stated, “2015 was the year unisex became a trend in fashion”—citing Louis Vuitton’s latest women’s wear ad campaign featuring Jaden Smith as a key example. The article also declares, “gender definitions are as fluid as they have ever been,” but there are also increased “efforts to codify the new reality, be it on bathroom doors or in the language of institutions.”

On January 27, as part of the museum’s Women, Arts, and Social Change initiative, artist Gabriel Ann Maher and Alice Rawsthorn continue the discussion surrounding the question “Can design be genderless?”

Netherlands-based designer Gabriel Ann Maher is one of the contemporary artists represented in the special exhibition Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, on view at the museum through February 28. Maher will discuss fluid gender identity as an artistic subject. Maher’s video work DE___SIGN examines the ways in which design shapes concepts of “male” and “female” and reveals how gestures, movements, and positions can imply gender norms.

Alice Rawsthorn, Courtesy of The New York Times Company

Alice Rawsthorn, Courtesy of The New York Times Company

Rawsthorn joins Maher for a presentation and discussion. Of Maher’s work, Rawsthorn says, “At a time of renewed interest in feminism and growing awareness of transgenderism, designers are striving to imbue products, graphics, environments and technology with subtler, more eclectic interpretations of gender both in commercial projects and conceptual ones like Maher’s.”

FRESH TALK: Can design be genderless? considers these questions and more on January 27. Attend the event in person or tune in remotely for the live-stream video feed. You can also add your voice on Twitter by using the hashtag #FreshTalk4Change.

—Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell is the public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Carrie Mae Weems and the Art of Change

In September, the National Museum of Women in the Arts launched a new public programs initiative, Women, Arts, and Social Change, focusing on women and the arts as catalysts for change. On Sunday, November 15, the museum hosted the second program in the series, FRESH TALK: Carrie Mae Weems—Can an artist inspire social change? The event’s audience provided thought-provoking commentary over Sunday Supper, through Twitter, and via comment cards. Here are a few highlights:

Carrie Mae Weems:  Keynote on an artist’s responsibility:

Weems gave a candid description of her artistic journey, saying that being an artist is “a very difficult thing to do, because you’re constantly living emotionally.”

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Carrie Mae Weems speaks at the second Women, Arts, and Social Change program; Photo: Kevin Allen

Weems’s project Social Studies 101 directly addresses the issues faced by the marginalized community of her hometown of Syracuse, New York. Syracuse has the highest concentration of extreme poverty among African Americans and Hispanics in the country. As part of her project, Weems created and displayed public billboards and lawn signs with messages including, “Stop the Senseless Violence” and “Our failure to respond is the problem!” Weems inspired the audience to think about the impact they can have on their communities.

Can art inspire social change?

Carrie Mae Weems was joined onstage by Raben Group president and founder Robert Raben. Washington Post columnist Lonnae O’Neal moderated the conversation, posing questions about the roles and spaces for art in current social justice movements, concepts of intersectionality, and the relationship between arts and policy.

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Left to right: Lonnae O’Neal, Carrie Mae Weems, and Robert Raben discuss how artists can inspire social change; Photos: Kevin Allen

During the discussion, Raben mentioned that much of what is known about the Civil Rights era is limited to a handful of stories, which have been curated by mainstream audiences. The annual March on Washington Film Festival, produced by the Raben Group, uses film, music, and art to share other relevant stories surrounding the period’s events and heroes—while inspiring a renewed passion for activism. Raben challenged, “If you care about social justice, you must care about changing the narrative.” Tweets about representation, identity, and otherness flooded the #FreshTalk4Change dialogue:

  • @VMPhoto3 quoted Weems [MT] How do you live a life without otherness. Mic drop.
  • @KiaWeatherspoon “Our history is miss-told” @RobertRaben #FreshTalk4Change
  • @eferry “Energized by Carrie Mae Weems on using art for social change #FreshTalk4Change #RBC”

Creating space for change:

Over Sunday Supper, attendees participated in lively discussions on  social justice issues among a diverse crowd. On one comment card, a participant said their experience “changed my opinion of what a museum can be.”

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Sunday Supper attendees discuss social justice with Carrie Mae Weems; Photos: Kevin Allen

Weems prompted the crowd to share their questions about how to integrate art with social change. Many artists in the audience mentioned that they hadn’t considered using art for social justice previously, but hoped to make it a key component in their future art-making practice.

The conversation initiated by Raben, O’Neal, and Weems empowered the audience to take ownership of their own stories as artists and social leaders. The conversation doesn’t stop here. Join the discussion and add your voice on Twitter with #FreshTalk4Change.

—Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell is the public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Righting the Balance: It Doesn’t Stop Here

NMWA’s latest initiative, Women, Arts, and Social Change, kicked off Sunday, October 18, with FRESH TALK: Righting the Balance. The new public program focuses on women and the arts as catalysts for change through a series of “Fresh Talks.”

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FRESH TALK panelists, Left: Maura Reilly, Sarah Douglas, and Jillian Steinhauer, Right: Guerrilla Girl Alma Thomas, Micol Hebron, Ghada Amer, and Simone Leigh; Photo: Kevin Allen

Women at the top of their art-world careers addressed the topic, “Can there be gender parity in the art world?” Curator and event co-organizer Maura Reilly, who wrote the central essay in the recent ARTnews magazine on women in the art world, introduced the event. Discussions featured Jillian Steinhauer of Hyperallergic, Sarah Douglas of ARTnews, Gabriela Palmieri of Sotheby’s, Mary Sabbatino of Galerie Lelong, artist Ghada Amer, artist Micol Hebron (organizer of Gallery Tally), artist Simone Leigh, Guerrilla Girl Alma Thomas, and activist/storyteller Jamia Wilson.

The goal of FRESH TALK is to keep the conversation going, and it wouldn’t be complete without input from participants, advocates, and women. We asked for your feedback during stimulating conversation over Sunday Supper and via comments. This is what you told us:

1. More women need to be heard.

Although the panel featured women from different backgrounds, talents, and career paths—Guerrilla Girl Alma Thomas was a highlight for many attendees—participants want to hear from more women of color and from the LGBT community. The next two FRESH TALK programs push these communities to the forefront of the discussion.

2. It’s time to get loud!

Artist Micol Hebron—one of the most-quoted speakers of the night—said, “If you don’t see something, say something!” When visitors notice a lack of representation of women, persons of color, and the LGBT community in museums, galleries, or other arts spaces, they should speak up! Collective voices can rally against these injustices.

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FRESH TALK attendees share their thoughts during Sunday Supper and through comment cards; Photo: Kevin Allen

3. Arts inequities are a problem for women of all ages.

A vast intergenerational audience exchanged views over Sunday Supper. Emerging women advocates sat with experienced professionals and passionately shared ideas about advancing the conversation. Intergenerational advocacy can be a strong resource in combating inequality.

4. Nonprofit art centers can make a difference too.

FRESH TALK attendees; Photo: Kevin Allen

FRESH TALK attendees Sheena Marie Morrison and Lauren Lyde; Photo: Kevin Allen

Panelists focused on data concerning gender inequity in the arts—particularly in sales and auction prices of art by women.

Nonprofit and alternative art spaces work as resources contesting the status quo. Many institutions thrive under the leadership of women, especially in D.C. We look forward to hearing more about the challenges that local centers face through an upcoming Cultural Capital series.

5. Now is the time to strike!

Fueled with the knowledge of engaging panelists, the event’s participants were inspired to take action. One commenter wants to host a protest for women artists, while another hopes to encourage her university gallery to collect and display work by women. An educator plans to empower her students to continue to challenge inequity.

It doesn’t stop here. Stay tuned for more FRESH TALK programs and get involved in the fight for gender equity in the arts. Mark your calendars for “Carrie Mae Weems: Can an artist inspire social change?” on November 15 and “Change by Design with Gabriel Maher and Alice Rawsthorn—Can design be genderless?” on January 27, 2016.

—Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell is the public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Food, Drink, and Fun: After Hours at NMWA!

Last Thursday, the museum held NMWA Nights: Earthly Delights, an after-hours event featuring two new exhibitions, Super Natural and Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015. Hosted together with members of the Young pARTners Circle, NMWA Nights provided staff-led tours of the exhibitions for over 100 attendees.

Attendees explore exhibition artworks, including Organic Matters artist Dawn Holder's Monoculture; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Attendees explore exhibition artworks, including Organic Matters artist Dawn Holder’s Monoculture; Photograph: Laura Hoffman

Super Natural features women artists who do not simply document nature but treat the natural world as a space for discovery and invention. Historical and contemporary depictions of plants, animals, and natural landscapes are juxtaposed to show the diverse ways that nature has inspired women artists.

Organic Matters is a part of a series presented every two to three years in which the museum’s national and international committees nominate up-and-coming women artists from their region to exhibit at NMWA. This year’s 13 selected artists work with the subject of nature in mediums ranging from photography to fiberglass.

Guests contribute paper flowers to a collaborative floor installation

Flowers in a collaborative installation; Photograph: Laura Hoffman

Between tours, guests met on the Mezzanine to sip on the specialty cocktail, cleverly named “Metamorphosis.” Participants sampled an array of tasty snacks—provided by Dirty South Deli in collaboration with Union Kitchen—all while listening to tunes by DJ Flying Fortress.

In the Great Hall, attendees explored their crafty side by pushing the boundaries of paper. Guests sculpted flowers and contributed them to a collaborative art project.

The floor installation featuring everyone’s paper flora and fauna was inspired by Organic Matters artist Rebecca Hutchinson’s Patterns of Nature.

Many added to a projected photo collage by instagramming their artwork and photo booth fun with the hashtag #NMWAnights.

Everyone who instagrammed—anything from floral photos to face-in-the-hole shots of collection artwork—was entered into a photo contest to win delightful prizes. Check out @womeninthearts on Instagram to see what people captured!

To stay informed about future NMWA Nights, networking events, and other fun and enriching opportunities, please visit the online calendar or join the Young pARTners Circle.

—Bridget Mazet is the development intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

“The Past is Palpably Present” on New York Avenue

Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work is now on view in NMWA’s New York Avenue Sculpture Project!

At a celebration on September 30, curator and scholar Mary Jane Jacob, a renowned authority on the artist, gave a special lecture on Abakanowicz, including her body of work and her sculptures on view on New York Avenue. These pieces, including Walking Figures and abstracted birds in flight, represent some of the artist’s most iconic work.

Walking Figures (and detail), 2009; Bronze, dimensions variable (each figure approximately 106 1/4 x 35 3/8 x 55 3/8 in.); © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; Photos Laura Hoffman

Walking Figures (and detail), 2009; Bronze, dimensions variable (each figure approximately 106 1/4 x 35 3/8 x 55 3/8 in.); © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; Photos Laura Hoffman

During Jacob’s talk, she discussed Abakanowicz’s life story, particularly her youth and artistic training in Poland and her experiences during the Second World War. Jacob believes that “the past is palpably present” through the artist’s work. She talked about Agora, a large public installation in Chicago’s Grant Park that, like the Walking Figures on New York Avenue, features a group of larger-than-life, armless and headless human figures.

Mary Jane Jacob at NMWA; Photo Laura Hoffman

Mary Jane Jacob at NMWA; Photo Laura Hoffman

Through this motif in her work, Jacob said, Abakanowicz shows that “Art is able to be a means of building links between distant societies” despite differences, due to commonalities and collective memory.

Jacob also described the artist’s abiding interest in nature: “Restoring nature became a theme for Magdalena Abakanowicz. She grew up in nature, and she understood that in war we not only kill others, but we kill the earth. She’s always been drawn to nature.”

Stainless Bird on Pole II, 2009; Stainless steel, 144 1/8 x 106 1/4 x 57 1/8 in.; and Stainless Bird on Pole III, 2009; Stainless steel, 151 5/8 x 63 x 53 1/8 in.; © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; Photo Laura Hoffman

Stainless Bird on Pole II, 2009; Stainless steel, 144 1/8 x 106 1/4 x 57 1/8 in.; and Stainless Bird on Pole III, 2009; Stainless steel, 151 5/8 x 63 x 53 1/8 in.; © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; Photo Laura Hoffman

Abakanowicz is especially inspired by unrepeatability in nature—encountering a swarm of mosquitos, for example, the artist was fascinated by the conspicuous individual characteristics among them. Jacob said, “Among her most powerful works are her soaring birds, which take us back to nature, and to a way of thinking not just about how we exist within this natural form, but how natural form itself has amazing variety.”

These works will be on view through September 2015 outside the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Plan your visit soon to see work by this extraordinary artist both inside and outside the museum.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

There’s No Place Like . . . Where?

Has NMWA’s exhibition Total Art: Contemporary Video left you wanting to know even more about video artists? You’re in luck! Today, the museum opens a new installation, bringing even more video art into its galleries.

After the Rainbow (2009), a video installation by Soda_Jerk, a two-person artistic collective from Australia, is presented in collaboration with the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ public art project 5×5. For 5×5, five curators each invited five artists to install public art around D.C. Curator Justine Topfer coordinated with NMWA to present this work, in which Soda_Jerk explores themes such as the passage of time, age, stardom, and melancholy.

Soda_Jerk, After the Rainbow, 2009; 2-channel projection on screens back-lit with fluorescents, 5 min, 42 sec.; Image courtesy of the artists

Soda_Jerk, After the Rainbow, 2009; 2-channel projection on screens back-lit with fluorescents, 5 min, 42 sec.; Image courtesy of the artists

After the Rainbow plays on our culture’s collective interest in both the characters portrayed by film stars in movies, and the turbulent mythologies of their private lives. In what the artistic duo calls “séance fiction,” they present clips of Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, reimagined. Instead of being swept by a tornado to the bright and colorful Oz, Dorothy instead comes face to face with her future self. Created using a process called sampling, Soda_Jerk splices together segments from film and television, creating a sort of moving collage. Viewers see the young Garland in the role that cemented her stardom, alongside her older, jaded self, as she appeared in a 1960s television special.

Soda_Jerk, After the Rainbow, 2009; 2-channel projection on screens back-lit with fluorescents (Installation view at UTS Gallery, Sydney, 2013); Image courtesy of the artists; Photo David Lawrey

Soda_Jerk, After the Rainbow, 2009; 2-channel projection on screens back-lit with fluorescents (Installation view at UTS Gallery, Sydney, 2013); Image courtesy of the artists; Photo David Lawrey

This video installation is the second in their series “Dark Matter”; each video juxtaposes youthful old-Hollywood icons encountering their spectral future selves. As viewers see Dorothy and the adult Garland side by side, the video emphasizes the unexpected turns a life can take—in this case between her tragic later life in Hollywood and her youthful exuberance and promise—as well as the factors that can make a narrative more complex than it seems.

After the Rainbow will be on view September 19–October 2.

—Caitlin Hoerr is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Kimsooja’s Threads of Culture

The art of Kimsooja (b. 1957, South Korea) is anchored in physical and metaphorical explorations of fabrics, textiles, and sewing. She has used a needle and thread to stitch together much of her work, manipulating everything from traditional South Korean fabrics, discarded clothing, travel bundles called bottari, and even her own name (rather than Soo-ja Kim or Kim Sooja, she prefers Kimsooja: “A one-word name is an anarchist’s name,” she says).

Kimsooja, Thread Routes–Chapter 1, 2010; Single-channel video projection, 16-mm film transferred to HD format, and sound; Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio

Kimsooja, Thread Routes–Chapter 1, 2010; Single-channel video projection, 16-mm film transferred to HD format, and sound; Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio

 

When the artist was a young girl, a life-changing moment occurred while she was helping her mother mend a bed cover. With needle in hand, Kimsooja says the moment the instrument entered the fabric she felt a jolt of energy that inspired a feeling of deep connection to the rest of the world. While this might seem like an extreme response to the seemingly insignificant act of mending sheets, this transformative sense of connection resonates through the artist’s oeuvre. For Kimsooja, the needle and thread symbolize the artist’s discerning eye and hand (another series of her work is called “A Needle Woman”), while images, videos, installations, and performances become swatches of fabric joined to create sensory works of art.

Thread Routes—Chapter 1 (2010), currently featured in Total Art: Contemporary Video, is a visual poem dedicated to the bright, color- and pattern-saturated aesthetic of the culture and landscape of Peruvian weavers. Shot by a film crew on location near Machu Picchu, the 26-minute video features images of women chatting while hand-spinning fibers into threads and using looms and other weaving techniques to create fabric designs. These scenes are juxtaposed with silent imagery of knotted mountainous landscapes, creating a patchwork-style video of a sensory experience of the region.

Kimsooja, Thread Routes–Chapter 1, 2010; Single-channel video projection, 16-mm film transferred to HD format, and sound; Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio; Installation photo Laura Hoffman

Kimsooja, Thread Routes–Chapter 1, 2010; Single-channel video projection, 16-mm film transferred to HD format, and sound; Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio; Installation photo Laura Hoffman

The video can be viewed as a meditation on the textures of experience, specifically the everyday, tactile experience of southern Peru. Kimsooja brings the viewer’s attention to the rich textural similarities between patterns created in the weavers’ fabrics and clothing, and the natural and agriculturally-manipulated patterns of the earth. Close-up details of braided threads and bright buttons are mirrored by video sequences framing harvested plots of land punctuated by the uniform roof tiles of small houses, as intricately interwoven as the textiles.

By creating these visual parallels, Kimsooja offers nuanced perspectives on the relationships between nature and culture, as well as between the artist and the larger world. This relates to a greater theme of Total Art—video as an art form that encourages the individual artist to collaborate with others. In this video, Kimsooja nods to the earth and entire societies as creators in their own rights. The Thread Routes series is an ongoing project that will eventually include six chapters, featuring images of other textile-centric cultures in their social and physical environments.

To learn more about the artist and Thread Routes—Chapter 1, visit the museum for a short conversation with Associate Educator Addie L. Gayoso on Wednesday, September 10, at noon.

—Kelly Johnson is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is pursuing her MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Curatorial Practice.