CAA News Today

Each month, CAA’s Committee on Women in the Arts selects the best in feminist art and scholarship. The following exhibitions and events should not be missed. Check the archive of CWA Picks at the bottom of the page, as several museum and gallery shows listed in previous months may still be on view or touring.

March 2015

Poetry and Exile
British Museum
Gallery 34, Great Russell Street, London
WC1B 3DG United Kingdom
October 1, 2014–March 1, 2015

Housed within the Islamic World Galleries, Poetry and Exile displays a series of works by artists of the Middle East and North Africa recently acquired by the British Museum. This small but powerful exhibition explores the effects of exile through the eyes of four women artists:Ipek Duben, Mireille Kassar, Mona Saudi, and Canan Tolon.

Tolon’s series ofink and graphite drawings, titled Futur Imparfait, is a memoir fromher exile from Istanbul to France, where she spent a decade in hospital as a result of contracting polio as a child. In the series Tolon portrays an exile not only from home, but also from her own body. Duben’s book Refugee belies the helplessness and terror suffered by people forced to flee their homeland with images on delicate gauze pages and using childlike embroidery that depicts the crossing of borders. The Istanbul-born Duben has been making books and installations that focus on identity, domestic violence, and the worldwide forced migration of the twentieth century.

The Jordanian artist Saudi combines the evocative verses of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish with drawings, while the Lebanese-born Kassar developed a series of drawings inspired by the Persian poem The Conference of the Birds. Here, Kassar conjures a story of exile from her own family history. Originally from Mosul and Mardin—present day Iraq and Turkey—her ancestors fled the Ottoman massacres of minorities during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Sophie Calle: For the Last and First Time
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
185, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Montréal, Québec H2X 3X5 Canada
February 5–May 10, 2015

The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal presents For the Last and First Time,a two-part exhibition by Sophie Calle (b. Paris, 1953), one of the most important conceptualists artists of her generation. The exhibition comprises two successive projects developed in Istanbul, The Last Image (2010) and Voir la mer (2011). Calle’s poetic investigation of beauty, blindness, and the sea reflects on visual and emotional relationships with the concept of beautythrough an insightful look at both the loss of one’s eyesight, through the particular mental images of blind people, and at the discovery of beauty and the sublime for the first time.

The Last Image isan installation of a series of photographs, tinged with melancholy and accompanied by texts and the soothing sound of waves. For this project, the artist spoke to blind people who had lost their sight suddenly, asking them to recall and describe the last thing they saw. Later on, while in Istanbul, Calle met many people that, in a city surrounded by water, had never seen the sea. For Voir la mer, a series of captivating first encounters with the sea, she filmed fifteen people from different ages looking at the sea for the first time in their lives.

Aware of the impossibility of re-creating the first glance, these series of digital films were in this case created with the assistant of a filmmaker. Calle found most meaningful to remain herself at the back of the viewers, waiting to observe their glances when they turn around after seeing the sea for the first time in their lives. As the artist recalls: “I went with each person individually, such as this man in his thirties. Before we arrived I made him cover his eyes. Once we were safely by the sea, I instructed him to take away his hands and look at it. Then, when he was ready—for some it was five minutes and for others fifteen—he had to turn to me and let me look at those eyes that had just seen the sea.”

Through presenting together The Last Image and Voir la mer, the exhibition opens a moving dialogue among memory, sight, beauty, and the sea. As often in the development of Calle’s projects, The Last Image and Voir la mer derive from an earlier series, The Blind, developed in 1986, in which the artist asked blind people to describe the notion of beauty for them. One of them had answered: “The most beautiful thing I have ever seen is the sea, the endless sea.”

Calle has developed a “polyphonic” art dealing with photography, writing, video, and performance. Throughout four decades of creative practice, she has produced extraordinary, audacious works that draw on her own history as well as that of others. Through a poetic, sincere, and intimate approach, Calle invites us to break through the boundaries between private and public life, creating and recording moments of startling truth, tinged with notions of loss, absence, and desire.

Doris Salcedo
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
220 East Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
February 21–May 24, 2015

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, presents the first retrospective of the thirty-year career of the renowned Colombian artist Doris Salcedo, whose work, although deeply rooted in her country’s social and political landscape, investigates human conflict manifested in different parts of the world. Salcedo (b. 1958), who lives and works in Bogotá, transforms ordinary and domestic objects (such as chairs, tables) into alternative memorials to the painful absence that embodied a traumatic loss of human life. In this process, the artist grounds her art in rigorous fieldwork, which involves extensive interviews with people who have experienced loss and trauma in their everyday lives due to political violence. She has been increasingly noted for her large-scale installations and architectural interventions. Between them, her work Shibboleth, a 167-meter-long crack in the turbine floor, developed as a commission for the Tate Modern Unilever Projects in 2007, raised questions of borders, racial hatred, and exclusion. Through a laborious and seemingly healing art-making process, Salcedo creates sculptures and installation that explore the indescribable wounds of violence as a universal phenomenon through a subtle, poetic, yet devastatingly powerful visual language.

Salcedo’s retrospective at the museum begins with a selection of her earliest works, many of which are exhibited together en masse for the first time since 1998: sculptures made with concrete-filled doors, tables, armoires, chairs. Other major installations include La Casa Viuda (1993–95), Unland (1995–98), Atrabiliarios (1992–2004), A Flor de Piel (2014), and Disremembered (2014). It also presents the American debut of Salcedo’s major work Plegaria Muda (2008–10), an expansive installation of tables, inverted one atop another, while individual blades of grass grow through the holes in their surfaces. Responding once again to acts of violence, its contemplative stillness evokes associations of a collective burial site. This piece was inspired by a three-year-long research of gang violence at the ghettoes of southeastern Los Angeles, as well as by the 2008 discovery that members of the Colombian Army had been killing innocent civilians and dressing their corpses in guerrilla uniforms to claim government bounties. As Salcedo points out, speaking about modern, war-torn societies, “we have lost our ability to mourn…. I want my work to play the role of funeral oration, honoring this life.”

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, is producing a short film documenting Salcedo’s site-specific and ephemeral installations and a 250-page publication featuring an overview of the artist’s career by leading scholars and curators. The exhibition travels to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where it will be seen June 26–October 14, 2015.

Body Talk: Feminism, Sexuality, and the Body in the Work of Six African Women Artists
WIELS, Contemporary Art Centre
Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354, 1190 Brussels, Belgium
February 14–May 3, 2015

WIELS Contemporary Art Center in Brussels presents Body Talks, an exhibition along a series of conversations and performances that address issues feminism, sexuality, and the body in the work of six African women artists. Curated by Koyo Kouoh and assisted by Eva Barois De Caevel from the RAW Material Company in Dakar, the exhibition explores the body as the subject of reflection and medium of artistic practice, as in the case of the “confrontational” performances of the South African artist Tracey Rose.

The spread of artistic practices to international networks, along with the critical resonance of a specifically African (and black) feminism, have given shape to the development of a black feminist art. Referencing to historical and political figures, black feminist art depicts bodies that continue a tradition of activism and freedom of speech. Bringing together the work of a generation of women artists from Africa active since the late 1990s, this group exhibition challenges pervasive fantasies and inequalities relating to women’s bodies and sexuality. While in the work of the selected artists the body manifests itself, as a model, support, subject, or/and object, the project as a whole attempts to define and articulate notions of feminism and sexuality in the work of women artists whose body serves as a tool, a representation, or a research field.

Exhibiting artists, from diverse regions of the continent and the diaspora, are: Zoulikha Bouabdellah (Algeria/France, b. 1977); Marcia Kure
(Nigeria, b. 1970); Miriam Syowia Kyambi
(Kenya, b. 1979); Valérie Oka
(Cote d’Ivoire, b. 1967); Tracey Rose
(South Africa, b. 1974); and Billie Zangewa (Malawi/Zimbawe, b. 1973).

Between the presented projects: Kure evokes Saartjie Baartman, “the Hottentot Venus,” who was born in what is now South Africa but taken to Europe in the early nineteenth century to be put on show. As the curator explains, “Baartman has really become a point of departure for thinking about the African woman’s body.”

Bouabdellah—who was at the center of a recent dispute about self-censorship for her Silence piece, an installation composed of prayer mats on which she had arranged high-heeled shoes—presents a series of collages for which she has cut famous paintings depicting women’s bodies into Eastern motifs. Oka presented two performances at the opening reflecting on the sexual clichés inherited from the period of slavery and colonization that stigmatize the black body and the idea that the African woman is allegedly more sensual and better at sex.

Rediscovering, reintegrating, and reinterpreting the body, this exhibition presents the response of a generation of African women artists that challenge stereotypes of the notion “black” sexuality and feminism through diverse means of dialoguing with—and experienced from—the own body.

Maryland to Murano: Neckpieces and Sculptures by Joyce J. Scott
Museum of Art and Design
2 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019
September 30, 2014–March 15, 2015

The Museum of Art and Design in New York presents Maryland to Murano: Neckpieces and Sculptures by Joyce J. Scott, which bringstogether neckpieces and blown-glass sculptures by the renowned “Queen of Beadwork” for the first time. Provocative and confrontational, Scott’s exuberant beaded sculptural forms and neckpieces address contentious political and social issues such as gender, race, and class struggle.

Maryland to Murano examines Scott’s ever-evolving techniques and continued exploration of provocative narratives through her commitment to craft. The show also highlights Scott’s range in both form and content in a extensive body of work created in her workshop in Baltimore, Maryland, and in her recent glass sculptures made at the Berengo Studio on Murano Island in Venice, Italy.

Scott (b. Baltimore, 1948) is a descendant of African Americans, Native Americans, and Scots. She received her first art lessons at home watching her mother—the renowned fiber artist Elizabeth Talford Scott—using unconventional techniques of embroidery and appliqué in creating her quilts. Scott’s creative process is deeply rooted in her ethnic and family heritage: three generations of storytellers, quilters, basket makers, and shapers of wood, metal, and clay.

Through the interplay between these two bodies of work, as well as a documentary video, the exhibition not only reveals the range of Scott’s technique and skill and the complex relationship she has shaped among adornment, content and methodology, but it also expresses her commentary on issues affecting contemporary society in an effort to elicit awareness and response. As the artist states: “It’s important to me to use art in a manner that incites people to look and then carry something home—even it it’s subliminal—that might make a change in them.” Scott’s thought-provoking, portable beaded pieces are certainly inciting us to be carried either way.

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