The Pre-K Invasion: Developing New Tours for Young Audiences

This April, some of NMWA’s oldest paintings entertained the museum’s youngest audience. In a series of pilot tours for preschoolers, NMWA’s Education staff led 140 energetic Pre-K and kindergarten students through the galleries to examine portraits, colors, and shapes. Seated on rainbow-colored carpet squares, tiny visitors listened to stories, explored paintings, and experimented with diverse materials in their own art projects.

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Pre-K visitors explore poses and posture in front of Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

As the intern charged with crafting this new tour experience, I quickly realized that flexibility was key. Months of planning and research culminated in three thought-out lesson plans. However, unexpected obstacles still arose. School buses ran late, large events occupied the museum’s Great Hall, and an educator was accidentally scheduled to give two tours at once. I designed the tours to last 45 minutes, allow for ten students per educator, and conclude with an art-making activity in the Great Hall. In the end, the tours lasted an hour and art-making occasionally shifted locations.

Pre-K visitors experiment with art-making in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Pre-K visitors experiment with art-making in the galleries; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Activities morphed based on the students’ interest, participation, and cooperation. Some of the preschoolers enjoyed using viewfinders to act like “color detectives” while other groups found the tool distracting. By the last program, we had figured out the most efficient ways to use materials in the galleries.

The art-making, movement activities, and stories captivated our young audience. The preschoolers found the dog in Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman and the unicorn in Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly in Her Mind easy to talk about—as well as the eye-catching outfits of each painting’s subject. They enjoyed mimicking shapes and lines with their bodies in front of Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain and using “magic paintbrushes” to imagine the expressive brush strokes in Joan Mitchell’s Orange. Students were eager to mix oil pastels and rip colored tape in their hands-on art activities. While creating self-portraits, they used hand mirrors to admire their faces. They were proud to take their artwork home as a reminder of their experience.

Overall, the program was a huge success! Logistical hurdles aside, we received positive feedback from teachers and chaperones who thought the tours were engaging and age-appropriate. Hearing kids say, “Wow! This place is cool!” or mention how much fun they had made the entire experience worth every ounce of effort it took to make it happen. I am excited for the future of these tours and cannot wait to hear how they play out during the next school year.

—Valerie Bundy was the winter/spring 2016 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is a former Pre-K teacher who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in museum education at the George Washington University.

Art Fix Friday: May 20, 2016

South Korean author Han Kang and her translator, Deborah Smith, received the Man Booker International Prize for fiction for the dark novel The Vegetarian.

The Vegetarian, a surreal, unsettling story about a woman who believes she is turning into a tree, is the first of Han’s books to be translated into English. The novel was one of 155 books submitted for the prize. The writer and her translator will split the $72,000 prize money.

Front-Page Femmes

Sughra Hussainy paints intricate miniatures for Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery exhibition, Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan.

Artist Elizabeth Colomba reinserts black women into the art historical narrative.

Art historian Amy Herman used art like Rosa Bonheur’s The Horse Fair to show NYPD officers how to look closely at their own cases.

Known for making a dress out of cake and a weave out of plastic fruit and photos, Selina Thompson retraces the Atlantic slave triangle for a historic retelling and performance.

Artsy highlights eight women who are changing the contemporary art scene in India.

Betty Tompkins, known for her sexually explicit and photorealistic works, discusses New York in the ’70s and “the system’s built-in misogyny” with painter Marilyn Minter.

Michigan-based artist Anne Mondro crochets sculptures of internal organs.

MacArthur Genius Grant winner Carrie Mae Weems talks about “the difference between the art world and the world of art” in a commencement address for the School of Visual Arts.

Using 700 colored mirrors in 15 colors, Liz West transformed a neo-Gothic church, making it feel like “the stained glass had fallen out of the windows and onto the floor.”

In an ARTnews interview, Tracey Emin discusses success, love, and her “exceptional appreciation for the battles of older generations of women.”

Woodcut prints by Alison Saar attempt to “transcend the stereotypes associated with women and African-American realities.”

Broadway costume designer Suttirat Larlarb discusses her accomplishments and inspirations.

Director Maya Deren was “unlike any woman working in film during the first half of the twentieth century.”

Actress Kate Beckinsale discusses Jane Austen’s “extremely edgy” unfinished novella, Lady Susan, and the recent film adaptation, Love & Friendship.

The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins discusses her path as a fiction writer.

Shows We Want to See

During her 70-year career, Austrian painter Maria Lassnig “morphed her every-woman’s body, with its high color, stocky limbs and snub nose, into a series of outlandish disguises.” Tate Liverpool features 40 of Lassnig’s large scale paintings.

Quatrefoil patterns in Judy Ledgerwood’s paintings become “a palpable motif of female sexuality, desire, and impolitic behavior behind closed doors,” writes Hyperallergic.  

The Met Breuer’s exhibition diane arbus: in the beginning charts how “a devoted fifties-era wife and mother turned herself into one of the most ruthlessly expressive artists of the century.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Recent Acquisitions at the LRC: Their Stories Through Her Lens

The next time you visit NMWA, come to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see new books on women in the arts, as well as reference books, artists’ books, and more.

Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album
Newsha Tavakolian
(Kehrer Heidelberg Berlin, 2015)

Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album by Newsha Tavakolian

The cover of Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album by Newsha Tavakolian

In Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album, Newsha Tavakolian (b. 1981) documents the lives of nine Iranians in Tehran through 135 pages of full-color photographs. As Tavakolian describes in her artist statement, her photographs represent a generation of Iranians who are “special in their normality.” Despite the burdens of their social and political situation, they continue to persevere in their daily lives. Tavakolian’s subjects are “interchangeable, thus representing many.” They represent a generation whose photo albums end with blank pages, and Tavakolian seeks to fill those pages. Visitors can enjoy Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album in the museum’s Library and Research Center and view other works by Tavakolian in the special exhibition She Who Tells a Story.

Najieh and her two sons during a parade celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Freedom Square, February 11, 2014” (146).

“Najieh and her two sons during a parade celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Freedom Square, February 11, 2014” (page 146 of Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album).

Each section of the book begins with an image taken from her subjects’ childhood photo albums, after which Tavakolian continues the story with her own photographs. Posed portraits among debris on a mountain outside of Tehran, along with candid photos, “visualize a generation marginalized by those speaking in their name.” Short narratives and the captions help to flesh out the stories of these nine middle-class Iranians.

Tavakolian’s photographs show a side of Iran that is not commonly represented in Western media. “As we stopped adding pictures to our albums, we became subject to the perceptions of outsiders and those who focus only on the extremes of our society­—the angry protesters or the mysterious women with their veils,” says Tavakolian. Blank Pages gives readers the opportunity to see Iran through Tavakolian’s lens.

All are welcome to look at this catalogue, which is available in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you’re touring the museum’s exhibitions, the library is open to the public and makes a great starting point on the fourth floor. In addition to beautiful books and comfortable chairs, library visitors enjoy interesting exhibitions that feature archival manuscripts, personal papers by women artists, rare books, and artists’ books. Reference Desk staff members are always happy to answer questions and offer assistance. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

 —­­Katy Seely is an intern in the Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Shadi Ghadirian

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

Shadi Ghadirian

(b. 1974, Tehran, Iran; lives Tehran)

Shadi Ghadirian, one of Iran’s leading contemporary photographers, addresses controversial issues concerning Iranian women of her generation. Ghadirian was among the first to graduate from Tehran’s Azad University with a BA in photography. Her works explore female identity, censorship, and gender roles.

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Three of Shadi Ghadirian’s photographs from the “Qajar” series on view in She Who Tells a Story

Because Ghadirian works, lives, and exhibits in Iran, she tackles controversial issues through creative means. She cannot photograph a women’s hair or any physical contact between men and women. Instead she uses humor and parody to investigate the paradoxes of Iranian women’s lives and the tensions between tradition and modernity. 

In Her Own Words

“The photographs depict conscious choices made by these women; an act of rebellion, of subtlety, of changes foreseen.”—Shadi Ghadirian

“I try to tell the different stories of Iranian women, which is somehow my own story too. I want to show a woman from different points of view.”—Shadi Ghadirian, interview in ArtInfo

“Each image shows a woman posing with a symbol of modern life while wearing traditional Iranian dress. This conflict between old and new is how the younger generation are currently living in Iran: we may embrace modernity, but we’re still in love with our country’s traditions.”—Shadi Ghadirian, interview in the Guardian

What’s On View?

She Who Tells a Story includes eight photographs from Ghadirian’s “Qajar” (1998–99) series and five images from “Nil, Nil” (2008). While working at Tehran’s National Museum of Photography, Ghadirian archived photographs from the Qajar dynasty (1786–1925). Inspired by this rich period of Persian culture, she decided to re-create the style of 19th-century portraits for her thesis, which evolved into a series of 33 photographs.

Shadi Ghadirian, Untitled, from the series “Qajar,” 1998, Gelatin silver print, 15 3/4 x 11 7/8 in.; MFA Boston; Museum purchase with the Horace W. Goldsmith Fund for Photography and Abbott Lawrence Fune, 2013.571; © Shadi Ghadirian; Photo © 2015 MFA Boston

Shadi Ghadirian, Untitled, from the series “Qajar,” 1998, Gelatin silver print, 15 3/4 x 11 7/8 in.; MFA Boston; Museum purchase with the Horace W. Goldsmith Fund for Photography and Abbott Lawrence Fune, 2013.571; © Shadi Ghadirian; Photo © 2015 MFA Boston

Ironically, the clothes worn by the sitters in the archival portraits are more revealing than what is acceptable for Iranian women to wear in public today. The artist says, “I’m not a sociologist, but I hope that when people see my photographs, they’ll understand the reality for women in Iran, then and now.”

Instead of using professional models, Ghadirian had her family and friends pose in vintage Iranian costumes. Set against luxurious 19th-century backdrops and photographed in sepia, her subjects seem stately—with the exception of anachronistic paraphernalia. Each photograph includes a subversive, often Western prop, like Pepsi cans, sunglasses, boom boxes, or banned reading material. Ghadirian’s pastiches juxtapose tradition and modernity and suggest tensions between restriction and freedom.

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: May 13, 2016

Britain’s 2016 Turner Prize announced Anthea Hamilton, Helen Marten, and Josephine Pryde among the prize’s four shortlisted artists. The Turner prize grants £25,000 to the winner.

The Guardian highlights standout works by the shortlisted artists, including Josephine Pryde’s large-scale model freight train and Anthea Hamilton’s cut-out figures with a live ant farm.

Front-Page Femmes

The New York Times interviews Grace Dunham and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Nicole Eisenman. The New Yorker admires Al-ugh-ories, Eisenman’s retrospective of 22 paintings and three sculptures at the New Museum.

Hyperallergic admires Lee Krasner’s “uncompromising toughness.”

Madame De Pompadour, King Louis XV’s chief mistress, was also an artist, tastemaker, and patron of the arts.

Yayoi Kusama will redecorate one London-based Airbnb apartment for free.

Ilma Gore, known for her controversial nude painting of Donald Trump, was physically attacked.

Silk tapestries by Billie Zangewa explore narratives about women in South Africa.

In an essay for Hyperallergic, sculptor Barbara Zucker reflects on her meetings with Georgia O’Keeffe.

Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi was found guilty of obscenity in Japan for publishing data to 3D print a replica of her vagina.

Thirty-five years after documenting female subculture style in London, Anita Corbin tracked down her original subjects.

Dutch wildlife artist Esther van Hulsen paints with 95-million-year-old octopus ink.

Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby tells complicated stories about Africa, colonialism, and her life.

Hyperallergic charts the fascinating life of 18th-century portraitist Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun.

Martine Syms says, “I think [art] changes discourse, and discourse can change ideas, and for me that’s what it’s about: having that space for conversation.”

Mariko Kusumoto makes wearable balloon-like objects containing playful sculptural forms like sea creatures and cars.

Chiharu Shiota’s surreal site-specific installation Conscious Sleep is one of the most talked-about works of the 2016 Sydney Biennale.

Photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark captured circus life, troubled youth, and life on the streets.

Kathryn Andrews situates her work “against the conceptual and pictorial backdrop of a fictitious presidential election.”

Grimes released an alternate version of the song California.

Zarqa Nawaz discusses her sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie and her memoir Laughing All The Way to the Mosque.

The Atlantic interviews Emma Ramadan about the possibilities and limitations of writing without gender.

NPR interviews Jodie Foster about roles for strong women and why there aren’t more female directors.

Shows We Want to See

Jane Irish “reimagines the role of Renaissance ceiling paintings and insists that art can be simultaneously beautiful and political” in A Rapid Whirling at the Heel.

Comprised of plastic flowers and gold balls, Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes’s Gamboa II hangs in the Jewish Museum’s lobby.

A posthumous retrospective of Iranian artist Farideh Lashai’s five-decade career, “reflects her mood and perspective on the changing political situation in Iran.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Elaine de Kooning

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Abstract Expressionist artist Elaine de Kooning (1918–1989), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Speed Demon

Elaine de Kooning had the reputation of being able to paint a full-length portrait in less than two hours.

2. Not-So-Still Life

Though primarily known for her portraiture, de Kooning also experimented with still life. She combined careful depictions of everyday objects with loosely painted, sketchy areas—imbuing the works with a sense of movement contrary to the static feeling of more traditional still-life paintings.

Elaine de Kooning, Bacchus #3, 1978; Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 78 in x 50 in x 2 1/4 in; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Elaine de Kooning, Bacchus #3, 1978; Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 78 in x 50 in x 2 1/4 in; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

3. A Woman’s World

De Kooning first encountered art in reproductions by Rembrandt, Raphael, Rosa Bonheur, and Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun hung by her mother in de Kooning’s childhood home. This experience molded her artistic path. She said she “began life with the assumption that half the painters in the world were women.”

Visitors study Elaine de Kooning’s Bacchus #3; Photo: Dakota Fine

NMWA visitors study Elaine de Kooning’s Bacchus #3; Photo: Dakota Fine

4. Triple Threat

In addition to being a painter, de Kooning was also an esteemed writer and teacher. She became an editorial assistant for Art News in 1948 and taught at the University of New Mexico, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of California—Davis.

5. No Adjectives, Please

Not a fan of the term “woman artist,” de Kooning preferred to just be referred to as an artist. Once a man approached de Kooning and fellow abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell and asked, “What do you women artists think…” and they both walked away without responding.

—Marina MacLatchie was the fall 2015 education and digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Lalla Essaydi

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

Lalla Essaydi

(b. 1956, Marrakesh, Morocco; lives New York)

Essaydi began her career as a painter—she developed an interest in photography first as a means of documenting her other work, and then, she says, “It became a medium I fell in love with.” She creates multilayered images that confront the historical Orientalism of Western artists, particularly sexualized depictions of North African and Middle Eastern women.

A NMWA visitor studies Lalla Essaydi’s work in She Who Tells a Story

A NMWA visitor studies Lalla Essaydi’s work in She Who Tells a Story

Her images often focus on a woman or small group of women whose clothing and bodies are decorated to match their surroundings. She uses henna—reclaiming the traditionally “male art of calligraphy”—to challenge gender dynamics within Moroccan and Arab cultures and between the East and West.

In Her Own Words

“When I was at school I made a huge Orientalist painting, and a curator from a museum was interested in it. When I tried to show her my other works, she had less enthusiasm. She only wanted the big fantasy. I started talking about the work, and she was surprised, she had thought the image was autobiographical. I was shocked that an expert in this area of art didn’t even know it was just a sexual fantasy.”

“From that moment, I knew I needed to do something. I am an Arab woman, and I don’t see myself in these paintings. A lot of people ask me why I choose to dwell on this issue, and it’s because it’s not solved.  It may not be about the odalisque now, but the odalisque is what later became the veiled female figure. If we don’t unveil that founding myth first, we cannot begin to address the rest.”—Lalla Essaydi, interview in ArtAsiaPacific

What’s On View?

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Triptych, chromogenic prints on aluminum, 150 x 66 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Miller Yezerski Gallery, Boston, and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NYC

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Triptych, chromogenic prints on aluminum, 150 x 66 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Miller Yezerski Gallery, Boston, and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NYC

The large-scale triptych Bullets Revisited #3 (2012), a set of chromogenic prints on aluminum, is in many ways characteristic of her work: it references Orientalism by depicting a woman lying down, and her body and clothing provide a canvas for henna calligraphy. In addition to henna, however, her surroundings are elaborately decorated with silver and golden bullet casings. With these, Essaydi evokes symbolic violence and restrictions on women.

The work’s visible black film borders emphasize the image’s artifice. It is large and visually lush, but Essaydi uses the borders, as well as the elaborate setup and deliberately abstracted, uninviting space, to underscore the fact that it does not reflect reality.

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: May 6, 2016

In the U.S. “only 27% of the 590 major solo shows organized by nearly 70 institutions between 2007 and 2013 were devoted to women.” The Art Newspaper outlines how influential donors, prizes for women, and diversifying museum leadership can help rectify the gender imbalance.

Helen Molesworth, the chief curator of MOCA, says that although the art world is progressive, “that doesn’t set us apart from the larger cultural forces at play, which have for the past several hundred years promoted the idea that genius and men and power and money are all very intertwined with one another.”

Front-Page Femmes

Marisol Escobar, known in the 1960s for her wooden Pop Art sculptures, died at the age of 85.

Adriana Varejão’s hand-painted tile mural covers Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics aquatics stadium.

Tauba Auerbach makes a large, geometric pop-up book.

Mona Hatoum’s survey includes endoscopic video of her internal organs.

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani was released from prison.

A fire at German artist Rosemarie Trockel’s home damaged and destroyed more than $30 million worth of art.

Cornelia Parker installed a Hitchcock-inspired barn on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Los Angeles Times traces 89-year-old artist Betye Saar‘s oeuvre through her recent and upcoming exhibitions.

Unnerving, surreal characters in Floria González’s photographs explore the impact of motherhood on her life.

Virginia-based teen Razan Elbaba uses photography to “break the stereotypes and significantly express the true goal of Muslim women.”

Art Basel visitors will help performance artist Alison Knowles toss a giant salad before it is served.

Heather Phillipson’s three-part installation for Frieze New York involves dog sculptures, video, trampolines, pillows and more.

The Guardian shares the @52museums Instagram project—highlighting one of NMWA’s posts.

“It’s so empowering for this generation to see a black ballerina doll that has muscles,” says Misty Copeland about the new Barbie made in her likeness.

NPR describes a new album by Anohni, formerly Antony Hegarty, as “a pop album that is simultaneously an act of dissent.”

Gabriela Burkhalter’s The Playground Project explores forgotten artistic playgrounds of the 20th century.

Sweet Lamb of Heaven, by Lydia Millet, is “an extraordinary metaphysical thriller.”

The New Yorker delves into two articles written by Harper Lee about the case that brought her to Kansas with Truman Capote.

The documentary Eva Hesse, structured around excerpts from her journals, provides a psychological portrait of the artist. Watch the trailer.

Shows We Want to See

Five women artists from the Electric Machete Studios collective locked themselves in their studio for 48 hours. The resulting works reflect the “complex identities of the women as feminists and artists.” Interventions: A Xicana & Boricua Guerrilla Perspective explores the relationship between art, feminism, and indigenous identity.

Abstract work by overlooked Victorian spiritualist Georgiana Houghton will be featured in London. The Guardian writes, “Houghton would host a seance, talk to her spirit guide and draw complex, colourful and layered watercolours.”

Carmen Herrera—now 101 years old—“distills painting to its purest elements.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Rana El Nemr

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

Rana El Nemr

(b. 1974, Hanover, Germany; lives Cairo)

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A NMWA visitor gazes at Metro (#7) in She Who Tells a Story

Primarily working with conceptual photography, Egyptian artist Rana El Nemr captures urban stories that focus on ideas of space, identity, and the sense of belonging. She is also a co-founder of the Contemporary Image Collective (CIC), a platform for contemporary Egyptian art.

In Her Own Words

“I try [in the series “The Metro”] to capture the riders’ response to the urban underground, the train, the station, and its vibrant ceramic designs. Riders become figures defined by form, line, and color in the midst of a congested modernity in which they no longer have a sense of place.”—Rana El Nemr

“When I was watching people and watching the space, I became very obsessed by how the space made the people, some of the people who are using the space, how it made them so absorbed, and so kind of out of their body’s presence in a way.”—Rana El Nemr, WGBH News

What’s On View?

In four images on view from her series “The Metro” (2003), El Nemr inconspicuously photographs passengers in the first car of Cairo’s subway, which is reserved for women and children. Her subjects are shown seated or standing, often absorbed in thought. Some riders are only glimpsed through the car’s windows, as seen in Metro (#7). Conveying the anonymity of city life, El Nemr’s subjects seem to be alienated. The artist describes them as “vulnerable to cycles of depression, indifference, and religious intolerance—illnesses that are both caused by, and transmitted to, the rest of Egyptian and Arab society and the world.”

Rana El Nemr, Metro (#7), from the series “The Metro,” 2003; Pigment print, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum purchase with general funds and the Abbott Lawrence Fund, 2013.569; Photograph © 2015 MFA Boston

Rana El Nemr, Metro (#7), from the series “The Metro,” 2003; Pigment print, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum purchase with general funds and the Abbott Lawrence Fund, 2013.569; Photograph © 2015 MFA Boston

El Nemr’s photographs record the rapid changes that middle-class Egyptians encounter in the megalopolis of Cairo. Her works convey the displacement and belonging that affect interactions between people and public space. Metro (#7) depicts the backs of two subway riders through the blue-and-white exterior of the car. The pairing of their black and white abayas, each framed by a window of the closed doors, demonstrates the artist’s eye for asymmetrical compositions.

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

A Housewife’s Ballet: Kirsten Justesen on Domesticity and Art

Danish artist Kirsten Justesen’s oeuvre highlights her experience navigating her role as a woman and artist. Justesen (b. 1943) explores the links between female identity and gender roles, examining the limits women faced as they fulfilled Western society’s expectations to become housewives and mothers during the 1970s. Themes of freedom and struggle are pronounced in Justesen’s oeuvre. Her works examine how childcare and domestic duties impact the scope for expression. Even Justesen’s studio was positioned between the kitchen and the nursery—an “inspiring threshold” and physical illustration of her blended identity as an artist and a mother.

Image of Kirsten Justesen; Courtesy of Kirsten Justesen

Image of Kirsten Justesen; Courtesy of Kirsten Justesen

As a student at the Royal Danish Art Academy, Justesen helped pioneer the birth of the feminist art movement in Denmark. In 1970, Justesen joined a collective of women artists whose experimental art project, Damebilleder (“Women’s Images”), portrayed women’s role in society “from the beauty parlor to dish-washing.”

The group’s efforts challenged gender perceptions by focusing on female perspective and capturing women’s experiences through art.

Justesen explains, “My generation is brought up with the male gaze, a gaze that still seems synonymous with defining the history of art . . . we want our gaze back in history, to secure diversity.”

On view at NMWA, Justesen’s photograph Lunch for a Landscape (1975) portrays a jubilant, nude Justesen sitting in a shopping cart with her arms raised. Justesen said, “I made this when I was raising two small boys, breastfeeding the baby, and also living as a spouse in a foreign country [Canada]. I describe my life then as a daily ‘housewife ballet.’ Here, a housewife is on her way in the vehicle of her life.” Justesen juxtaposes a celebration of freedom with a traditional symbol of wifely duty—a grocery cart.

Kirsten Justesen, Lunch for a Landscape,1975/2009; Chromogenic print, 48 3/4 x 67 3/4 in; NMWA; Gift of Montana A/S, © Kirsten Justesen

Kirsten Justesen, Lunch for a Landscape,1975/2009; Chromogenic print, 48 3/4 x 67 3/4 in; NMWA; Gift of Montana A/S, © Kirsten Justesen

In Justesen’s own words, “through our upbringing we were defined as reproduction tools and were supposed to behave in order to find suitable husbands.” The core of the feminist art movement challenged the marginalization of women and the confines of strict gender roles. Justesen’s Lunch for a Landscape seems to imply that the adoption domestic duties does not mean giving up the desire for freedom. Works like the photograph on view at NMWA provided a voice for Justesen and enabled her to establish herself in the art world.

—Sophia Wu was the winter/spring 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.