A woman’s place, reclaimed through art
The #MeToo movement has prompted many women to reexamine their relationship to the men in their lives, driving questions about women’s roles in society to the forefront of our culture.
The Belmont Gallery of Art’s new exhibit, “A Woman’s Place,” explores how both sexism and feminism shape the lives of women. The show features 15 female artists who work in painting, drawing, textile art, mixed media assemblage, photography, and metal.
“I hope that when people see what we’ve created, they feel the weight of being born female in the 21st century,” said artist Kimberly Becker, who curated the show.
The exhibit opened days before the one-year anniversary of the first Women’s March. Just as the election of President Trump inspired tens of thousands of women to take to the streets in cities across the world, his first year in office inspired many of the artists whose work is featured in the exhibit. Many marched in Washington, D.C., and Boston, and said that seeing so many women come together to voice their frustrations about the political climate was inspiring.
Michèle Fandel Bonner has created a series of denim pieces displaying disrespectful words that are often said to or about women. They include phrases like “nasty woman” and “she asked for it.”
“As an artist, whether I wanted it to or not, it’s really hard to not be influenced by what’s going on around you. I think that happened for a lot of us,” Bonner said. “The show is really timely because of that. We were creating from what we already knew, so in a lot of ways, the news caught up to us.”
The centerpiece of the exhibit is Becker’s “House Dress Project,” a collection of dresses that tells the stories of women who have been marginalized because of their gender. Each dress has a woman’s house painted on the front and her story embroidered on the back.
Becker began with stories about herself and her mother, but she quickly realized other women were willing to have their stories added to the collection. Now the stories on her dresses span from a young woman being disrespected at her first job to a mother trying to escape an abusive relationship.
Her project began just after Trump took office, but Becker said it was the start of the #MeToo movement that motivated women to open up to her.
“There is no question that this show was given momentum because of #MeToo,” said Becker, a Rhode Island School of Design alum who is currently a graduate student at Heartwood College of Art.
“My dresses started around the time [Trump’s] administration was being put together and I felt this urgency to give women a voice because I felt like we were so quickly losing our voice,” she said. “But had this show come out a year ago, people wouldn’t have heard me the way I expect they will now.”
As the curator, Becker hand-picked every artist in the exhibit. She said she chose artists who created feminist art in ways that went beyond focusing on the female form.
She found artist Elena Brunner at the Waltham Mills Open Studios and was immediately struck by her seven-foot tall drawings of police officers and firefighters. Brunner said she made the drawings to recreate the imposing feeling that men in positions of power create in women, as well as to start a conversation about institutionalized discrimination.
“I want to get people closer to having conversations about where feminism meets racism and institutionalized power,” said Brunner, whose drawings are in the Belmont exhibit. “I want to bring to mind the institutions that we don’t typically talk about in feminism art.”
For other artists, the inspiration for their work was more personal. Brenda Cironi created her “Dream House” series to explore the connections women have to the home. Cironi’s houses are sculpted almost entirely of fabric from women’s clothing she ripped and fashioned together. She said she believes the home represents the “fantasy of marriage and family” and how that fantasy becomes a sacred aspect of our lives.
Over the past year her homes have become bigger and more solid, qualities Cironi said she would use to describe how the feminist movement has evolved in the past year.
“My art is not a direct response to current events. It’s much more internal,” Cironi said. “I do think that [art] can be a great vehicle for bringing personal discussions to the public.”
The Belmont Gallery of Art is hosting “Sunday Salons” to complement the exhibit. Attendees can see film screenings, hear gallery talks with the artists, and participate in art-making workshops.
“One visit to a show like this doesn’t do it justice. I believe in constant interaction,” Becker said. “Each piece is its own experience and deserves its own conversation.”
The exhibit will be on display until March 10, with “Sunday Salons” happening through the end of February. For more information, visit www.belmontgallery.org.