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Arc Gallery exhibit raises a feminist middle finger in uncertain times

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Emma Sulkowicz’s “Newspaper Bodies (Look, Mom. I’m on the Front Page!”) is among the works on view at Arc Gallery in “F*ck U! In the Most Loving Way: A National Feminist Art Exhibition.” (Courtesy Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art)
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There’s an irony surrounding a new, national feminist art exhibit at Arc Gallery in San Francisco, which was scheduled to usher in the first female U.S. president.

“This show has evolved a lot from the very beginning,” said curator Tanya Augsburg at the Dec. 17 opening of “F*ck U! In the Most Loving Way: A National Feminist Art Exhibition.”

“When we first conceptualized the show, we were anticipating that there would be a different outcome of the election,” Augsburg said, mentioning that it was conceived as a nod to Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro’s 1972 feminist installation “Womanhouse,” an actual house in Los Angeles which artists transformed from a domestic environment to one that expressed women’s diverse and unique experiences.

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“This show was really about from ‘Womanhouse to the White House,’” Augsburg said. Now, its works by 52 artists, which were selected before the election, “resonate in much different ways,” she added.

The exhibit, conceptualized by Leisel Whitlock and sponsored by the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art, exemplifies unrestricted feminist expression in varied media. The artists offer layered, distinctive, often screaming, responses to patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, abuse, harassment and discrimination.

In her piece “Mary’s Power,” an ironing board with spikes through it, Judy Shintani pays homage her grandmother, the family’s sole breadwinner who took in laundry during World War II when her husband was imprisoned in Hawaii for being a Japanese-American community leader. She says, “This is a portrait of my grandmother, a devout Christian and very proper, strong woman. The sharpness of the dowels reflects her vigor and prickliness, and my reaction to the unjust, racist actions of the U.S. government towards its citizens.”

The four-part series “Newspaper Bodies (Look, Mom. I’m on the Front Page!”) by Emma Sulkowicz layers silkscreened images depicting and commenting on a rape she endured over pages from the New York Times which tell her story of the crime, and the perpetrator’s version. She says the silkscreens “call the papers’ textual depictions into question, [and] remind us of the ubiquity of bias.” The thread uniting the series is: “You can take my story, but my body won’t be overwritten.”

The exhibit also features works and performances by Womanhouse artists Nancy Youdelman, Karen LeCocq, Faith Wilding and Johanna Demetrakas, who are slated to attend a reunion on Jan. 13, bringing the homage full circle.

Given the post-election, increasingly repressive, political climate in the U.S., the show’s timing, and its powerful stories that need to be told out loud, are pertinent.

“We are living during a time when the scrutiny and evaluation of women’s bodies are still considered ‘fair game.’ The artists in this show are adamantly defying sexist expectations of how they should appear, behave and relate to others,” Augsburg says.

IF YOU GO
F*ck U! In the Most Loving Way: A National Feminist Art Exhibition
Where: Arc Gallery, 1246 Folsom St., S.F.
When: 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, noon to 3 p.m. Jan. 7, Jan. 14, Jan. 21; closes Jan. 21
Tickets: Free
Contact: www.ncwca.org
Note: A Womanhouse reunion is at 6 p.m. Jan. 13, and performances and videos are at 1 and 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at Ninth Street Independent Film Center, 145 Ninth St., S.F.

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