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

NO. 1: FEMIN • IS – PAULA ROSE

Episode No. 1 of the KC Art Pie Podcast features art historian and educator Paula Rose, discussing representation and the upcoming Wikipedia Edit-a-thon.

Above image: The first local Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at Wonder Fair Gallery in 2015, with co-curator Meredith Moore pictured center.

We’re kicking off the KC Art Pie podcast and Women’s History Month talking about how an annual upcoming event fuses small acts of activism, feminism and artist representation on Wikipedia, all as a social activity. We’ll speak with Paula Rose, an art historian and educator, who is partnering for this year’s Wikipedia Edit-a-thon with Her Art Project of the UMKC Womens Center. Begun by Art + Feminism, in previous years, the event’s focus has been to increase the number of women editors on Wikipedia as well as increase the number of women artists represented on Wikipedia and quality of already available content. This year, the Edit-a-thon has expanded to include not just the arts, but all STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, together with art).

Is there an artist you feel does not have their due on Wikipedia? What about local artists? Here’s your chance to learn how to change and add content to the world’s largest online encyclopedia.

Click below for the Facebook Event

 

A view of the 2014 exhibition YWAs: :Young Women Artists featuring artists such as Rachel Doris Gregor, Shenequa A. Brooks and Mariah Gillespie.

 

“Squa-plaits” by Shenequa A. Brooks using synthetic hair woven with cotton

 

Artist talks and presentations accompanied the YWAs exhibition at Wonder Fair Gallery in Lawrence, KS

For more on the YWAs show, read this 2014 article in the Lawrence Journal World.

Lastly, here is the portrait of Paula, holding a fountain pen in a reference to one of Gloria Steinham’s iconic images.

Femin • Is Paula Rose │Ink on panel │Text: “If I Were a Man” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman │ 16 x 20” │ 2017

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

Project Launch of FEMIN • IS

In the spring of 2017, KC Art Pie will launch as an arts podcast for the Kansas City scene with the debut of the season one project, Femin Is: Portrait of Kansas City Feminism Then and Now

Femin • Is will be an equal part local history project, part contemporary examination, and part visual exhibition. The project will be released as season one of the KC Art Pie podcast, showcasing interviews and oral histories from artists active during the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1970’s in the Kansas City area as well as contemporary creatives working with an evolving definition of feminism. The podcast will debut during Women’s History Month, March 2017, with a culminating exhibition of collaborative portraits to follow in the summer. Fusing emotional, political, and theoretical concerns with the artist’s creative process, this project endeavors to capture personal histories and share contemporary perspectives while engaging with an often charged topic in our culture.

The podcast series will connect with a portrait series, which will be based on text that individuals from the interviews select as something historically or personally significant to them. What does that look like? An example can be found on one of the Power & Light KC Streetcar Stop (up through October 2016).

i-see-you_view-6bs_gardnerroe

I See You_Detail 1s_GardnerRoe.jpg

Yes, it’s all text! You can view more portraiture in this style here.  Stay tuned in the coming months for the first interview. Sign up to be on the email list here or add http://www.kcartpie.com to your favorite RSS reader.

Finally, I am happy to share that Femin • Is has received an Inspiration Grant from the ArtsKC Regional Arts Council. This will allow the podcast and this website to get off the groud.

For a taste of things to come, listen to this clip featuring local art historian, curator and writer, Elizabeth Kirsch, on a bit of feminist history in the Kansas City art scene.

catcallingcards cropOr  read this  excerpted  interview  with recent
KCAI  grads, Heavenly  Ehrhart and Kiki Serna,
about their thesis project that revolved around
the  behavior of catcalling in the Midtown area.

Calling out Catcalling

Local Artists Bring it to the Streets

uncomfortable performance shot
Questions that were handed out on business cards to offending catcallers were projected onto vulnerable bodies during the performance of “Uncomfortable,” Heavenly Ehrhart and Kiki Serna’s thesis exhibition at the H&R Block Artspace.

I recently met with two freshly minted graduates of the Kansas City Art Institute, Heavenly Ehrhart and Kiki Serna. Their year-long thesis project, which culminated in the BFA exhibition at the H&R Block Artspace, revolved around the behavior of catcalling in the Midtown area.

It quickly became clear how complicated this seemingly minor issue is. The artists encountered repeated and often disturbing experiences of women, themselves included, alongside the dismissal women who hadn’t been subjected to similar situations. Ehrhart and Serna also encountered men who were genuinely unaware and surprised at the behavior, alongside the catcallers themselves, either mistakenly convinced that their comments were compliments, or at worst, aggressively aware of their actions.

Ehrhart and Serna’s thesis project explored methods of engagement with these catcallers and included performance, video, printmaking and public outreach. We spoke at length about their process and reactions to it as well as the systemic cultural origins that propagate such micro-aggressive behaviors. Here is an excerpt on how they got started on this year-long project to call out the catcallers.

___

Rachelle Gardner-Roe: Tell me a little bit about the components of your project.

Heavenly Ehrhart: We really started to approach this project based on research and a lot of what we were thinking about is, “How can we capture micro-agression, or how can we approach micro-aggression that we experience every day as women walking in spaces that we’re supposed to be comfortable in. So we started walking around.

Kiki Serna: We would walk our daily routes. We don’t have cars, and so we walk everywhere. We initially started with a point and shoot camera.

EH: We had the point and shoot and then we had the video recorder. We were trying to, without approaching them, to capture what they were saying, which is something that we asked a lot of questions about early on. What are things that have been said to you in a public space that you’re supposed to be comfortable in? And a lot of women actually had a hard time pinpointing what was said. But they all knew that they weren’t comfortable with it, they knew it was heckling, they knew it was aggressive. They knew that it was, at points, stalking.

We put a hat on and we hid the Go Pro with a little hole in it and were walking around. Any time a guy approached us, looked at us, we would look at them and try to document them without talking to them. Then we got to a point where we were like, ok, we’ve got all this documentation, how can we take the next step that will further this confrontation?

KS: We’re not doing anything constructive. We’re just capturing them, but we’re not solving anything. So we came up with a dialogue.

EH: Yeah, dialogue and questions. And those questions, I think, were the leading factor of our piece after that. So I think one of the questions we started with was “Are you aware that you are making me feeling uncomfortable,” which ended up being the title of the piece, You Made Me Feel Uncomfortable, and Uncomfortable for the BFA.

RGR Are all of those questions listed on the catcalling blog?

EH: Yeah, Heavenly actually made cards that had the statements on them because we at the time when we started to implement these questions a lot of the guys we were talking to would be really stunned. So she made these business cards. We would hand these out to them. We wanted also to facilitate a safe way or comfortable way for the subject to feel safe and to be able to, confront them in this sense, but also feel safe enough to walk away.

catcallingcards

KS: I handset each of these type on a machine and then cut all the paper. I thought it was really important, the time put into these, because we give these out for free. They’re not really going to know what letterpress is and the time put in, but I think it was important for us.

To learn more, including what constitutes as catcalling, as well as images and video of the artists’ performance work, visit the artists’ blog at Confronting Catcalling KC.