The beautiful warrior of our time known as Malala Yousafzai once said, "We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back."
Her words ring true even in the creative atmosphere of art and design, where Nicole Royse, curator for shade projects at the MonOrchid gallery in downtown Phoenix, said female artists continue to be underrepresented. MonOrchid's latest exhibition, "Feminism Today," is aiming to change that.
"With March being women's history month, it's the perfect opportunity for us to give our interpretation of what it means to be a feminist," Royse said. "It doesn't just affect part of us; it's who we are."
Royse said the exhibition, which features over a dozen local female artists, is intended to represent a wide variety of generations and perspectives.
"('Feminism Today') displays a multi-generational group of evolved female artists," Constance McBride, one of the featured artists, noted. "Our topics are varied; some overlap and some are very specific and unique. The overall message is the same though."
McBride works primarily in clay, pastel and graphite, all natural elements that she feels convey a sense of connection between her sculpted figures and nature. Her pieces reflect the glorification of youth and society's blatant distaste for aging.
"We live in a youth-obsessed society. ... It’s tough on all of us, but it’s toughest on aging women," McBride said. "I want to convey that we are active, engaging people producing serious work. We are relevant and will not be marginalized."
Meanwhile, Monica Aissa Martinez expresses her feminist perspective through a reflection of physical and emotional support structures in her mixed media piece, "Anatomy of Support Structures."
In general, her work features both masculine and feminine elements, but this particular piece showcases her relationship with her husband. She emphasized the bone and muscle that go into physically supporting the handstand as well as the emotional support that allows the female figure to "find her strength and balance through the help of someone else, until she can do it on her own." Her second work, "It's All Intimate," represents spiritual and physical intimacy.
One of the exceptional accomplishments of this exhibition is that it directly confronts multiple criticisms of feminism, such as the opinion that a married mother is somehow not a true feminist.
"I always get this cliché, 'You're not a feminist,' thrown at me," Royse said. "But I am a mother and a wife because I chose to be."
The celebration of feminism in a familial setting is enhanced through the work of Phoenix native Irma Sanchez. Sanchez works in a variety of mediums, including digital art, fabric art and print, and often creates political art. However, her familial, relational work in "Feminism Today" powerfully reflects her belief that "if two people come together to create a family, there is a reason to celebrate love."
On a similar note, Kristin Bauer's work combines insight gained from motherhood with an interest in the way people make meaning of things and use "the power of word and image to manipulate perspective."
She said watching her children learn how to read made her hyper-aware of how we put words together, a concept that inspired her piece "Full Circle."
"I hope my work conveys what it means to be powerful in a feminine way," Bauer said. "I want to show the rhythm of what it means to be grounded and moving in a wider feminine sense."
In keeping with the exhibit's focus on diversity of interpretation, artist Marilyn Szabo expressed that she doesn't really consider herself a feminist, though she "supposes she is by others' definitions."
Nevertheless, her photos of late opera singer Maria Callas reflect a focus on "women, money and power." Szabo used 35mm film to capture images of Callas from a television screen in a darkened room. She also recently released a book, "At Work in Arizona: The First 100 Years."
As a whole, "Feminism Today" showcases dynamic intellect and masterful artistry in a manner that will certainly help the art community advance forward an ideal state of existence where all genders are equally represented.
"I wanted to let the women be free to express their vision and their voice," Royse said. "They keep evolving, and I believe you'll keep seeing more from them."
The closing reception for "Feminism Today" will take place on March 20 at MonOrchid.
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