This past week, I was honored to meet Sara Slawnik, Program Director for the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts & Media at Columbia College Chicago.
Sara led three of us on a special guided tour of “Off the Beaten Path: Violence, Women, and Art,” an exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Our small group included Jillian Sandell, Chair of Women’s Studies at SFSU. Jillian actually remembered me from our days at Berkeley, since she was in the doctoral program at the same time I was… I was just starting, though, while Jillian was already ABD.
Many *stunning* art exhibits are worthy of mention, a few spotlighted here.
“Tsumugi, Estelle, and Kwanyi”
Miwa Yanaga asked Japanese women what they would dream of doing 50 years from now. One example: “The sounds I play are not for human ears. / In late winter the plucking of the koto welcomes the spring./ With a tap it reverberates, shaking the earth; / the mountains awaken.”
As Sara observed, the young Japanese women described solitary creative pursuits such as playing a koto in a beautiful forest or writing in a house of one’s own. Question, then: Why not play the koto… or write in your own house now?
India ink drawn on paper
Extremely powerful installation against ritual bridal burning. Using India ink, Maimuna drew contours of women and wedding dresses and wrote “no” all over them, i.e. “no no NO no NO NO no no no.” I absolutely loved it.
“Cut Piece” – Videos
March 21, 1965 at Carnegie Hall
September 2003 in Paris, France
Yes, the 1965 performance by Yoko Ono is well-known. Audience members approach Yoko and snip off little pieces of her black dress as a camera circles around her, shot-reverse-shot of scissors, dress, Yoko’s terrified eyes.
I felt angry & helpless watching this public harassment of Yoko. I felt confined to role of “silent witness” who is complicit. Although this happened to Yoko in the past, I wanted to write “no NO NO no no NO” in permanent marker all over the place.
In the 2003 performance, an older & famous Yoko is stoic, even defiant as little pieces of her dress are snipped off by audience members. The camera, as Sara pointed out, is completely still in this video – no circling or shot-reverse-shots.
Both are powerful performance pieces about the objectification and violation of women. The physical act of picking up a pair of scissors and snipping away a piece of a woman’s protective covering is not that much different than the male spectator gaze – power, control, domination that renders her a voiceless object w/o dignity or agency.
This is a sculpture installation… ten small floating dresses crafted from feathers, coral, boar’s teeth, other natural “found” materials. Cecilia is a Peruvian-born photo-performance artist and sculptor. I loved the way the small floating dresses, suspended on fine wires, turned quietly in the stillness of the room, each its own eloquent poem among sister-poems.