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.

November 2015

Jumana Manna
Chisenhale Gallery
64 Chisenhale Road, London E3 5QZ UK
September 18–December 13, 2015 

Chisenhale Gallery presents the first UK solo exhibition by the Berlin and Jerusalem–based artist Jumana Manna. The exhibition includes A magical substance flows into me (2015), a newly commissioned, seventy-minute feature-length film presented alongside an installation of sculptures.

Manna (b. 1987) works primarily with film and sculpture, addressing the historical and political resonance of materials and the physical relationships between objects and bodies. For the Chisenhale exhibition, the film was installed alongside a series of hollow plaster sculptures that carry an anthropomorphic charge. Installed in combination with plastic chairs and waste bins, these sculptures articulate a set of contradictions also evident in the film, where the audience seated bodies and sculptures extend the concepts explored in screen into a physical and tangible atmosphere.

A magical substance flows into me explores the different musical traditions of myriad communities living in and around Jerusalem. Inspired by her research on the German-Jewish ethnomusicologist Robert Lachmann (who fled to Israel at the beginning of WWII), the artist revisits different diaspora groups—such as Kurds, Moroccans, Yemenite Jews, Samaritans, Palestinians, Bedouins, and Coptic Christians—whose traditional music Lachmann studied and recorded for the 1930s radio series Oriental Music. This recording was developed for the Palestine Broadcasting Service, established under the British Mandate (1920–1948).

Tracing links between physically, culturally, and linguistically separated communities, while allowing for ideas of the representation of authenticity and heritage to emerge through the possibilities of sound and listening, Manna creates a beautifully poignant film that explores how musical customs create identity and overcome cultural suppression. Waving together fragments Jerusalem’s story, the artist includes her parents as well as herself to reflect a personal connection to the subject within the historical narratives she portrays, a narrative in which the power of music truly transcends politics.

Firelei Báez: Patterns of Resistance
Utah Museum of Contemporary Art
20 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
September 25, 2015–January 16, 2016

The Utah Museum of Contemporary Art presents Patterns of Resistance, the first solo exhibition of the Dominican artist Firelei Báez, on the occasion of the artist being awarded the prestigious Catherine Doctorow Prize for Contemporary Painting. This prize is given by the museum and the Jarvis and Constance Doctorow Family Foundation “to an emerging or mid-career painter whose work expresses a great range of talent and forward thinking within a contemporary idiom.”

Born in 1981 in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, Báez is best known for her large-scale intrincate works on paper. Her laborious studio practice draws together her interest in anthropology, science fiction, black female subjectivity, and women’s work. Throughout her work, Báez explores the humor and fantasy involved in self-making within diasporic societies, a process that implies an individual and creative capability to coexist with cultural ambiguities.

Inspired by lineages of black resistance, Báez’s work traces the history of social movements in the United States and the Caribbean. Throughout Patterns of Resistance, the artist interweaves the lives of eighteenth-century black women in Louisiana and the Cuban roots of the Latin American azabache with symbols used in the US during the tumultuous 1960s. Her paintings and drawings depict textiles, hair designs, and body ornaments linking traditionally loaded symbols with individual human gestures. Primarily focusing on female figures and their subjectivities, Báez has a labor-intensive process that reveals new emblems of power and invokes disparate patterns of resistance within the African diaspora while proposing the illumination of obscured narratives of identity.

Oliver Pickle and Ruth West: She Is Sitting in the Night: Re-visioning Thea’s Tarot
Book, available from Metonymy Press

Described as “a contemporary queer re-visioning of a beautiful feminist tarot deck,” She Is Sitting in the Night by the author and tarot reader Oliver Pickle, with the artist Ruth West, re-presents West’s original feminist drawings from Thea’s Tarot and rejects the “normative readings of the figures and imagery on the decks they discuss.”

The 192-page book features copies of the original seventy-eight drawings by West along with new interpretations celebrating both queer and feminist cultural production. Thea’s Tarot, originally released in 1984, features black and white cut-paper silhouettes, replacing the figures with all women, including child, daughter, mother, and amazon.

Pickle, through their interpretations of West’s work, challenges the heteronormative relationships to figure and body. This intergenerational conversation draws on the relationships between radical feminism of the 1970s and the evolving relationships to gender identity. Where West’s drawings replace male figures, such as the Emperor, with a woman, and the card for Lovers is a paper cut of two females, Pickle uses the absence of commentary by West to reframe the relationship between image/text and gender identity.

The book and drawings are designed to fit a specific need within the tarot community, but they also function as an example of artistic production shifting the binary representation of figure to a more fluid role. In an interview Pickle describes their interpretations of West’s drawings by not “imagining a sexual or gender identity for the person I am speaking to, so they can do interpretations of themselves.”

Nancy Cohen: Hackensack Dreaming
Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education
8480 Hagy’s Mill Road, Philadelphia, PA
November 5–December 19, 2015

Nancy Cohen’s Hackensack Dreaming, at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, fuses the artistic process with environmental education. The large-scale installation of handmade paper, glass, and rubber is the culmination of more than two years of Cohen’s work and time spent in a section of the Mill Creek Marsh tucked behind strip malls and a wastewater treatment plant along the New Jersey Meadowlands.

Exploring Cohen’s installation is to enter a world constructed by the human hand through manipulation of raw materials, a parallel not unlike the reality of marsh. In a subtle self-referential manner, the organic ingredients that constitute the hand-made paper and glass are documents of the natural world.

The installation serves as a document to the soul of the marsh and its own constructed reality. Hackensack Dreaming is rife with referential essence: translucent glass objects hint at cedar forest poking up through the water on an icy New Jersey day, and liquid rubber poured on the paper suggests, interchangeably, a wet or toxic surface.

“I want the viewer to move through Hackensack Dreaming discovering and finding connections—compelled by the beauty and strangeness,” says Cohen, who lives and works in Jersey City, New Jersey. Discovering, likewise, the fragility and strength found in both the installation and natural world by means of physical experience. Through conscious levels of manipulation of materials, Cohen “makes literal the delicate, ephemeral balance” of the marsh. The audience is invited to walk among the work, either by the narrow path at the center of the installation or by delicately placing one’s feet among the glass sculptures and maneuvering one’s body through the realities of Hackensack Dreaming.

Patricia Johanson: Environmental Remedies: Restoring Soil and Water
Winter Visual and Performing Arts Center
60 West Cottage Avenue, Millersville, PA
October 22–December 11, 2015

Related programming:
Conrad Nelson Fellow: Patricia Johanson, Artist Lecture
Ware Center, Millersville University
42 North Prince Street, Lancaster, PA
November 3, 2015, 7:30 PM

Panel discussion:
Ecological Art: Reconstructing Humanity’s Relationship with the Environment
Betsy Damon, Patricia Johanson, and Sue Spaid
Ware Center, Millersville University
42 North Prince Street, Lancaster, PA
November 4, 2015, 7:00 PM

Gallery Talk:
November 4, 2015, 3:00 PM

The Winter Visual and Performing Arts Center at Millersville University will feature work by the artist Patricia Johanson. As the 2015–16 Conrad Nelson Fellow, Johanson has combined sculptural projects, art, ecology, landscaping, and functional infrastructure to remedy environmental degradation and restore ecosystems. Trained as an artist and architect, she has transformed landfills into parks, restored lagoons, conserved land polluted by acid mine drainage and built water gardens that function as treatment plants.

In her 1969 commission by House & Garden, Johanson produced 150 drawings with essays and explanatory notes departing from traditional garden design. “Her images, drawn from precise botanical and biological sources, loop, uncoil, and crawl elegantly across the land, evoking evolution, life, and movement.”

One of Johanson’s early ecological artworks, Fair Park Lagoon in Dallas (1981), transformed the eroding shoreline and water contaminated with algal blooms into a thriving ecosystem. The park was fitted with gigantic, terra-cotta-colored Gunite sculptures that doubled as pathways as well as perches for birds and turtles as the work snaked its way through the park land and water. Fair Park Lagoon in Dallas continues to serve as a place of education and recreation.

In conjunction with her exhibition and the Conrad fellowship, Johanson will present an artist lecture at the Ware Center on November 3, 2015. Additionally, Johanson, along with the ecoartist Betsy Damon and the curator Sue Spaid, will participate in a panel discussion, “Ecological Art: Reconstructiong Humanity’s Relationship with the Environment,” on November 4, 2015. The panelists will discuss their outdoor sculptural projects designed to remedy environmental degradation and strengthen the planet’s weakened defenses.

Our Mother’s House: a multi-component program dedicated to empowering female artists and safeguarding cultural heritage in southern Saudi Arabia
United Nations Headquarters
New York, NY
November 16–27, 2015

Art Jameel, Edge of Arabia, and the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations present Our Mother’s House, a program that aims to draw attention to the urgent need of cultural-heritage protection and the equal representation of women in the Middle East.

The launch of this program will include an art exhibition of specially commissioned mural painting that celebrates the centuries-old tradition of (Majli) house-painting by skilled female artisans from the village of Rijal Alma, located in the southwestern region of Saudi Arabia. Highlighting the crucial role that Asiri female artists have played in the composition and archiving of their local history, Our Mother’s House means a celebration the creativity and determination of women artists who play an extraordinary role in preserving the cultural identity of their communities.

Project advisors include the artist Arwa Alnaemi, whose work explores the relationship of women to larger Saudi Society, and Asiri house painter Fatimah Jaber, who is also founder of Fatimah Museum in Abha.

For more information or to request a private tour of the exhibition, please email Mohammed Shaker.

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