Musings on Femin • Is

The journey is not yet complete and new paths may still emerge, but November marks the eighth month since the Femin • Is project debuted, so it seems a good time to take a look back, even as I look forward in seeking a venue for the project for Women’s History Month in 2018.

Firstly, what am I talking about? What is Femin • Is? Well, there are two parts to that answer. Femin • Is  consists of a series of audio interviews as well as a series of portraits featuring the subjects of those interviews. I was looking for self-identifying women artists who had spent a significant part of their life in Kansas City, since around the 1960s. I wanted to hear from these women on what feminism looked like in our local arts scene from a historical perspective. Why? It’s relatively easy to find out what was going on in national hotspots during the era of radical feminism of the 1970s, but what was going on here in the Midwest? The national feminist art scene had Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro leading the way, but who did we have here?

Judy Chicago’s seminal and monumental work “The Dinner Party,” installed in what is functionally its own enclosed temple at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at The Brooklyn Museum, NY. I got the chance to experience it in 2016 and was simply left in awe of the scale and detail of the work.

Did feminism in the arts scene look different in Kansas City? And for comparison, what are some examples of feminism in the arts scene today? My initial research came up short. My response to this frustration was, “Well, if this isn’t easy to find, then make it easy to find.” The seed for Femin • Is germinated then and there.

I am a visual artist, first and foremost, so while it certainly imposed limitations on the scope of the project, it was necessary for me to tie this research to my own work. Therefore, the portrait component of the project was key. I say that this imposed a limit on the project, as there is only so many portraits I could create in a finite period, so there are many, many more women who could have easily justified inclusion. In the end, I narrowed it down to a baker’s dozen, thirteen portraits, 18 women in total.

Portraits of individuals include:
Philomene Bennett
Shea Gordon
Cyncha Jeansonne
Elisabeth Kirsch
Janet Kuemmerlein
Jennifer Lapke Pfeifer – Rightfully Sewn
Ke-Sook Lee
Linda Lighton
Paula Rose
Rosy’s Bar & Grill – Joyce Downing, Linda Kay Davis, Carol Smith, Tamara Severns
The Wild Women of Kansas City – Geneva Price, Millie Edwards Nottingham, Lori             Tucker
Gloria Vando Hickok

I asked each women I interviewed to provide me with some kind of written text that held significance in her life, either personally or historically. Poetry, historical fiction, phrases, song lyrics, philosophical treatises — all these I received and translated into portraits by writing and layering the text to create an image. I’d had a bit of practice at this from a series of self-portraits and a public project on the KC Streetcar line.

figurative portrait using layers of cursive writing. The human figure fades in and out with the writing.
Reading Between Lines │Ink on paper │ Text: Streaming consciousness │ 49.5 x 36″ │ 2014
I See You │Art in the Loop: Connect │ Power & Light KC Streetcar Stop │ 70sf │ 2016

Yet, there was more than one catalyst for this project. I had just come back from New York where I had been commissioned by the oldest feminist gallery in New York, A.I.R. Gallery, to create sculptures to be used as awards to honor feminists. I simply loved that my work was being used to honor other women. I also love podcasts and had an itch to start one of my own.

Lastly, I had a conversation with a younger women that left me flabbergasted, a ridiculous word, yet accurate, in this case. She claimed she wasn’t a feminist. I replied, “You don’t think you should have the same rights as a man?” Immediately, she responded, “Oh, of course I should,” but to her, feminism meant that oft-repeated term — man-hating.  That the definition of feminism is, literally, the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes, was simply not in her worldview, or at least, in her mind’s dictionary. Really, though, I should thank her. My exasperation led to a need to do something, in my own way, through my work.

So, I received an Inspiration Grant from The ArtsKC Regional Arts Council to record and release the interviews through a podcast I created called KC Art Pie (which will hopefully be the umbrella platform for future seasons of arts-related content).  Each of the interviews gave me clues about how to create their unique portrait.

image of brick wall with row of hung artworks
Femin • Is exhibition in the Crossroads Arts District – July 2017
exhibition of artwork with an audience looking on during an artist's talk
Artist Talk at the opening reception of Femin • Is at The Writers Place

The exhibition of portraits debuted in July at Counter Point in the Crossroads Arts District and continued in September at The Writers Place, which was quite fitting, as the work was literally literary and the co-founder of the institution, Gloria Vando Hickok, was a participant in the project.

As of this article, ten of the thirteen interviews have been released on KC Art Pie. Each of the women expressed their own kind of feminism and its been an honor to talk to each and every one of them, from the quiet feminism found in Ke-Sook Lee’s textile work, influenced by experiences of war, the life of a stay-at-home mother and the passing down of handcraft from generation to generation, to the directness of Linda Lighton’s ceramic sculpture, reflective of coming of age during the peak of the sexual revolution, yet straining under the constraints of a family’s expectations of a what a “good girl” should be.

I learned that national figures of feminism did touch our local scene. Feminist icon Miriam Schapiro juried the first all women exhibition in the region in 1977, as remembered by writer and curator Elisabeth Kirsch, who, as a student, served as the assistant to Schapiro. Honestly, there are too many stories to relate here and that is exactly what the podcast is for!

So, to close out, I’ll share some of the portraits from the Femin • Is series, along with the text that each subject chose (click on a portrait to hear the interview). This was a way to learn more about the thoughts and ideas important to them and to use those values as an expression of identity, rather than photographic likeness. We can’t always control what we look like on the outside, but we can control what we value and treasure. That is what I wanted to express in the portrayal of the identity of these amazing individuals.

 

Femin • Is Elisabeth Kirsch│ Ink on panel │ Text: “Awakening Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön │ 24 x 18” │ 2017
Femin • Is Arzie Umali │ Ink on paper │Text:Text: “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?” by Linda Nochlin │ 12 x 9” │ 2017
Femin • Is Janet Kuemmerlein │Ink on canvas │Text: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
│ 36 x 36″” │ 2017
Femin • Is Rosy’s Bar & Grill │India ink on canvas│Text (from left to right):
Joyce Downing: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
Carol King: “Ella’s Song”, composed by Bernice Johnson Reagon
Linda Kay Davis: “No More Slavery”, composed by Ed Sanders of The Fugs
Tamara Severns: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Background Text: “Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim
│ 24 x 36” │ 2017 │ PODCAST EPISODE FORTHCOMING
artwork of silhouette of seated figure
Femin • Is Cyncha Jeansonne │ Ink on paper │Text: One Thousand White Women: the Journals of May Dodd (fiction)│ 17 x 12.75” │ 2017
Femin • Is Paula Rose │Ink on panel │Text: “If I Were a Man” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman │ 16 x 20” │ 2017
 Femin • Is The Wild Women of Kansas City │Ink on paper │Text: (from left to right)
Millie Edwards Nottingham: “We Shall Overcome”
Geneva Price: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” – Quote by Maya Angelou
Lori Tucker: “With God, all things are possible.”
Radiating Text: Excerpts from Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
│ 22.75 x 34.75”” │ 2017
Femin • Is Gloria Vando Hickok │India ink on paper │Text: The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser │ 22.75 x 34.75” │ 2017

NO. 10 FEMIN • IS – Philomene Bennett

side profile of a seated woman with an abstract painting of swirling lines in the background

In episode No. 10 of the Femin • Is series, I sat down with painter Philomene Bennett to hear about her fifty plus year career as an artist. Having read Bennett described as the “grand dame” of art in Kansas City, I was eager to learn more.

In episode No. 10 of the Femin • Is series, I sat down with painter Philomene Bennett to hear about her fifty plus year career as an artist. Having read Bennett described as the “grand dame” of art in Kansas City, I was eager to learn more.

Now in her eighties, Bennett’s lasting influence on individual artists through her long-running studio ateliers and the very fabric of the Kansas City arts scene through the co-founding of The Kansas City Artists Coalition is simply undeniable.

In our conversation, we touched on everything from how her identity as an artist started in childhood, her first big break in Kansas City, a fateful night that started an arts organization now 40 years strong, and, of course, her own work as a painter, including a few works close to her heart. Below are images of the work we discussed, as well as some extra treats. Enjoy!

painting of a female figure reclining on a divan clothed in and surrounded by rich draping fabrics

 

abstract painting with swirling, expressive lines hinting at a landscape with sky and a fish pond towards the bottom
Philomene Bennett, My Very Own Fish Pond, oil on canvas

 

image of a woman standing and painting a large portrait on canvas
Bennett painting in her River Quay (River Market) studio in the 1970s

 

image of an art opening with people and a large painting filling the background
Bennett (seen left) at an opening of her work featuring a monumental painting on canvas
image of landscape-like abstract painting
Philomene Bennett, The Shadow Persists, oil on canvas

Lastly, here is Philomene’s portrait. It used metallic gold acrylic, so it was admittedly very difficult to photograph.  Text: Alice Neel, volume published for exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art

It was a lot of writing, but I enjoyed learning more about the challenging life of Alice Neel. I can completely see how Philomene found her inspiring!

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This episode of KC Art Pie is made possible through an Inspiration Grant from

NO. 8 FEMIN • IS – Arzie Umali

Femin Is_Arzie Umali_Cover Art

In episode No. 8 of the Femin • Is series, I sat down with painter and Assistant Director of UMKC’s Womens Center, Arzie Umali. We talked about her research into representation of women artists in KC institutions, her work at The Women’s Center, and her work as a painter.

Featured Image is of Arzie Umali’s portrait for the Femin • Is project, consisting of text from Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

From her days as a graduate student to now, Arzie Umali has kept feminism and the art world closely entwined. With a precedent set by the famed Guerrilla Girls in making tallies of the number of women artists receiving exhibitions in New York museums, Umali looked at institutions closer to home to look at representation of women artists.

guerrilla girl museum statistics 1985 vs 2015

I wanted to look at this history and talk about how the research was done, as well as put out a call that this work needs to be done again.

Additionally, we talked about Her Art Project, a program initiative Umali started at The Women’s Center at the University of Missouri Kansas City. As we talked about its past, present, and some exciting plans for the future, it’s clear that Her Art Project is close to Umali’s heart.

HerArtProject_logo

Diving into her own work as a painter, we learn of a lasting influence from another female artist on her choice of subject matter. You can view more of her work on her website at www.arzie.com.

No More Evil, Please by Arzie Umali

 

Madonna on the Rocks by Arzie Umali

Lastly, we find that even her personal work has taken on a role of reaching out to others as evidenced by our conversation about a project that started out as a two-woman show but morphed into a community exhibition. Arzie Umali and her advocacy for women and the arts is here to stay.

Lastly, here is Arzie’s full portrait!

Ink on paper │Text: “Why Are There No Great Women Artists?” by Linda Nochlin │ 12 x 9” │ 2017

This episode of KC Art Pie is made possible through an Inspiration Grant from