Art Fix Friday: July 29, 2016

Broadly interviews Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman, whose work will be featured at NMWA this fall in the exhibition NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection.

Kahraman’s works integrate themes of trauma and war with art forms adopted from Persian miniatures and Renaissance painting. Kahraman’s semi-autobiographical work also “speaks to the notion of commodities” where “the female figure becomes this object that’s being sold and traded within the art market.”

Front-Page Femmes

ArtInfo shares ecological artist Mary Mattingly’s “floating food project.”

“I’m interested in the transfer of knowledge between women,” says Simone Leigh.

The Guardian explores American portraitist Alice Neel’s famous pastel work, Alice and José.

Chiharu Shiota creates a large-scale installation interweaving yarn with keys collected from around the world.

Documentary photographer Carol Highsmith filed a one billion dollar copyright infringement suit for “gross misuse” of 18,755 of her photographs.

A Tamara de Lempicka painting, which was stolen from the Netherlands in 2009, was recovered this week.

Pao Houa Her discusses her project combining her mother’s collection of silk flowers with pictures used by Hmong women on dating sites.

ARTnews shares art reviews written by Laure Anderson in the early 1970s.

Marina Abramović says having children would have been “a disaster for my work.”

Robin F. Williams “switches up the gender roles typically found in great historical painting.”

Patricia Piccinini collaborated with a trauma surgeon and a road safety engineer to create Graham.

Kate Just knits portraits of feminist artists and their work.

Tanya Barson, Tate Modern’s Georgia O’Keeffe curator, discusses efforts to “rectify a severe unfamiliarity with [O’Keeffe’s] work.”

Hyperallergic asks, “Why were the women largely left out of the history books on Abstract Expressionism?”

Roxane Gay is writing a Black Panther companion, making her the first black woman to write for Marvel Comics.

The 2016 Eisner Awards for comic books breaks records with 61 nominations for female creators.

Singer Marni Nixon, who dubbed the voices for some of Hollywood’s biggest musicals, died at the age of 86.

NPR interviews soul singer Sharon Jones about her return to the stage.

Meera Menon and Sarah Megan discuss their new film, Equity, about a powerful female investment banker.

Shows We Want to See

Marking the Infinite, a major exhibition of work by nine Australian Aboriginal women painters will debut at Tulane University’s Newcomb Art Museum.

Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, currently on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art, “[argues] just as much for Hesse’s impact on LeWitt as the other way around.”

Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria talks to the Guardian about her first solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami hosts a retrospective of Susan Te Kahurangi King with works dating from 1958—when the artist was seven years old—to her complex compositions from the 1970s and ’80s.

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

Double Take: Rosa Bonheur in the Eulabee Dix Gallery

NMWA staff recently reinstalled the Eulabee Dix Gallery “salon style” to display more of the museum’s collection. The gallery, now featuring more than 30 works, includes two paintings by the French Realist artist Rosa Bonheur—largely considered the most famous female painter of the 19th century.

Dix-Gallery_February-2016_07-detail

The recently reinstalled Eulabee Dix Gallery at NMWA includes two works by Rosa Bonheur; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Defying Convention

Born in Bordeaux to minor landscape painter Raymond Bonheur and piano teacher Sophie Bonheur, Rosa Bonheur had an unusual upbringing. As an adult, she refused to marry, wore men’s clothing, studied animal anatomy in slaughterhouses, smoked cigars, and cut her hair short. She became a subject of public scrutiny—and sometimes ridicule.

Her remarkable career included many honors—she became the first woman to be awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour in 1865—as well as financial success, an impressive feat for an unmarried woman. Bonheur was able to earn enough as an artist to buy an estate near the Forest of Fontainebleau, where she resided first with her life-long companion, Nathalie Micas, and, after Micas’s death, American painter Anna Klumpke.

Rosa Bonheur, Untitled, n.d.; Gift of Roma Crocker in honor of her children. Conservation funds generously provided by the Mississippi State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Rosa Bonheur, Untitled, n.d.; Gift of Roma Crocker in honor of her children. Conservation funds generously provided by the Mississippi State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Animals Abound

One work by Bonheur currently on view in the Eulabee Dix Gallery is an untitled oil sketch of horses on a green background. Bonheur’s artistic process involved carefully working on form and composition in multiple sketches before beginning to paint. This work on paper shows the same beauty and commitment to realistic animal anatomy as the artist’s larger paintings, and gives a fascinating look into a less visible stage of her creative process.

Another work, Sheep by the Sea (1865), is a small oil painting depicting a flock of sheep reclining peacefully beside a body of water. The brightly lit scene shows no sign of human encroachment, instead offering an image of the animals in a pristine natural habitat.

A closer look reveals Bonheur’s incredible skill and attention to detail, evident in the tactile quality of the sheep’s wooly coats as well as their believably-rendered bodies—the product of detailed anatomical studies and careful planning. Sheep by the Sea was originally commissioned by Empress Eugénie of France and became part of her collection after being exhibited at the Salon of 1867.

Rosa Bonheur is fascinating both as an artist and a figure in women’s history. Visit NMWA during weekday hours to see some of her work, and more art by women, in the Eulabee Dix Gallery.

The Eulabee Dix Gallery is located on the fourth floor of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, open to visitors Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

—Kait Gilioli is the summer 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas continues to dominate art news headlines. In recent years, she exhibited in numerous solo exhibitions around the globe, became the subject of her first monograph, Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs, and created Michelle O (an individual portrait of Michelle Obama that has been shown at the National Portrait Gallery). FOX’s hit television drama Empire even features some of her iconic works.

Born in Camden, New Jersey, Thomas now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Thomas’s works often reference art history, as evidenced in her Andy Warhol-inspired compositions and coloration to her subjects’ classical poses. Thomas acknowledges Henri Matisse, Romare Bearden, and Édouard Manet as sources of inspiration.

Mickalene Thomas, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, 2009; Plastic rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on panel, 24 x 20 in.; Gift of Deborah Carstens; © 2009 Mickalene Thomas, Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, 2009; Plastic rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on panel, 24 x 20 in.; Gift of Deborah Carstens; © 2009 Mickalene Thomas, Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin

Thomas’s works featuring black women explore themes of race, sexuality, femininity, gender, and popular culture. The artist embellishes her acrylic-and-enamel-painted panels with rhinestones, referring to ideas of female beauty. According to Thomas, her signature rhinestones are “like that really glossy lipstick that women wear. It’s another level of masking, of dressing up.” Thomas questions societal ideals and pressures, particularly those concerning black American women. She says, “We respond to beauty, its seduction and attraction, yet what that has done culturally to people that are subject to universal codes of beauty has been devastating.”

Thomas’s painting in NMWA’s collection, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y (2009), is an example of the artist’s exploration of art history, blackness, and womanhood. At a glance, the portrait appears to be silkscreened like Warhol’s famous prints, but a closer look reveals individually placed black rhinestones that constitute the subject’s hair and facial features. Upon inspection, brushstrokes are visible against the work’s vibrant pink background, and viewers can detect subtle differences in hue. Incorporating popular culture, Thomas often titles her works after songs. The title A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y references a 1983 dance-club hit single by Ebn-Ozn.

Mickalene Thomas, Whatever You Want, 2004; Acrylic,

Mickalene Thomas, Whatever You Want, 2004; Acrylic, rhinestone, and enamel on panel; 48 x 36 in.; Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection

Unlike many female subjects in the history of painting, Thomas’s model, Fran, unapologetically meets the gaze of the viewer. Thomas challenges longstanding stereotypes and depictions of women and renders her subjects as beautiful, powerful, nuanced, and important. She explains, “By portraying real women with their own unique history, beauty, and background, I’m working to diversify the representations of black women in art.”

Visit NMWA to see Thomas’s A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y in the third-floor collection galleries. Another painting by Thomas, Whatever You Want, will be featured in the fall exhibition NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, on view beginning September 30, 2016.

—Casey Betts is the summer 2016 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: July 22, 2016

Eighteen women artists share advice for young artists in an article for artnet.

Ebony G. Patterson says, “Being an artist is not a sprint, it’s a marathon” while Marilyn Minter encourages young women artists to “Go with your gut, even if it goes against all rational thinking.” Mariko Mori imparts, “Never compare your career with other artists.”

Front-Page Femmes

Mexican artist Teresa Margolles builds a concrete shelter in Echo Park incorporating debris from homicide scenes as a monument to 100 forgotten victims.

The Washington Post interviews Iranian artist Atena Farghadani, who was released from prison two months ago.

Greek artist Despina Stokou writes an article about navigating art-world sexism.

Hyperallergic reviews The Woman Destroyed, featuring works related to femininity and the deconstruction of the female body within art history.

MoMA acquired Faith Ringgold’s American People Series #20: Die, which was on view at NMWA in 2013.

Slovakian artist Mária Švarbová stages eerie photographs of pastel-colored swimming pools.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s previously unseen works are on view in London.

Activist and comic Joyce Brabner says, “Any work a woman does has value.”

Louise Hearman won the 2016 Archibald prize.

Amy Cutler collaborated with a musician and a stylist for an interactive installation involving 800 feet of braided hair.

Juxtapoz highlights Rachel Kneebone’s fractured porcelain figures.

Google commissioned two women artists to create a mural using spreadsheets.

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama illustrated The Little Mermaid.

Dorothea Tanning’s 1969 soft-sculpture “suggests a domestic world where desire finds odd outlets and fetishes take hold.”

Seattle-based artist Kate Alarcón transforms paper materials into flowers.

Women writers like H. M. Ward find success by self-publishing their work online.

More than 150 literary figures call for the release of imprisoned Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour.

Cyntha Ozick discusses reading as a child and how to create good villains.

Filmmaker Rebecca Miller discusses her fifth feature film, Maggie’s Plan.

Ava DuVernay’s new documentary explores the U.S.’s sky-high incarceration rate.

Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, best known for E.T., passed away before the completion of The BFG.

Six hundred pieces of music left behind by Jane Austen’s family are now available online.

The all-female Ghostbusters movie earned $46 million in its opening weekend.

Shows We Want to See

Alma Thomas at the Studio Museum in Harlem features works from every period of the artist’s career—including a work on loan from NMWA. ARTnews shares review excerpts from their archives about Thomas’s colorful abstractions.

Hyperallergic reviews Generations: Joyce J. Scott | Sonya Clark and writes that Scott “challenges art world taboos against beauty and humor.”

Whitechapel Gallery will host the first U.K. exhibition of the Guerrilla Girls—or “feminist masked avengers”—titled Is It Even Worse in Europe?

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

Staging Strange: Angela Strassheim’s Photographs

Some viewers might say Angela Strassheim seems obsessed with death—her eerie photographs were once described as “CSI meets Billy Graham.” The artist’s uncomfortable upbringing as a born-again Christian and her background in forensic photography imbue her images of crime scenes, domestic activities, and oddly posed figures with an unsettling feeling.

Strassheim’s work references religion, art history, and the experience of growing up in the American Midwest. Three photographs from her “Left Behind” series (2004) and two from “Pause” (2006)—currently on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries—are partly inspired by her family and childhood memories.

Histories Repeating

Agnela Strassheim

Installation view of Angela Strassheim’s Untitled (Savannah’s Birthday Party) at NMWA

Combining art-historical and biblical references, Untitled (Savannah’s Birthday Party) (2006) echoes depictions of the Last Supper. Strassheim transposes this scene to a suburban dining room filled with young girls—merging her memories with an iconic artistic and religious tableau. The work’s central figure meets the viewer’s gaze, creating an unsettling feeling of being watched.

Although her photographs are meticulously staged, Strassheim says that they ring “true” by representing a past feeling or memory. The artist based Untitled (Isabel at the Window) (2004) on an incident from her adolescence. The photograph’s perspective, strange crime-scene quality, and placement of the nude girl in a room alongside works of art create a sense of voyeurism and transgression. The ambiguity of Isabel’s position—it is not clear whether or not she knows she is being watched—adds to the intrigue of this investigation of power, gender, and vision.

Power and Control

Untitled (Horses) (2004) from “Left Behind” incorporates dread and humor in a playful image. The series’ title refers to the Christian concept of the apocalypse: that true believers will be raptured into heaven while the unsaved will remain on Earth for a period of chaos and violence. In the photograph, toy horses (a reference to the apocalypse) seem to flee from a young girl who is bathed in light, wearing costume wings, and reading a small Bible. To her right, a boy sleeps peacefully, while another child lurks underneath the bed to her left.

Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Horses), 2004; Edition 1/8, Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Horses), 2004; Edition 1/8, Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC

Strassheim’s restaging of the apocalypse as a children’s game and portrayal of a young girl (a surrogate for the artist’s childhood self) as a figure of authority subverts a belief that weighed heavily on Strassheim for the first 18 years of her life. Overall, the compulsively detailed staging and sense of static perfection in these photographs suggests an intense desire for control.

Horses exemplifies Strassheim’s artistic style. Polished, unsettling, and ambiguous, this photograph conjures a myriad of associations and emotions. The sense of terror lurking beneath everyday domesticity, the implication of violence disturbingly depicted through children’s bodies, and the unsettling sense of being watched make her photographs disquieting but endlessly engaging.

—Kait Gilioli is the summer 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Appreciating Architecture: #EmptyNMWA Instameet

More than 25 D.C.-area Instagrammers visited NMWA on June 17, 2016, for a before-hours Instameet. With access to the empty galleries, local photographers explored the museum’s building and collection, as well as the special exhibitions She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World and Alison Saar In Print. Attendees including @2020_productions snapped photographs of the event’s snacks, including cookies inspired by the building’s façade. Participants explored the building’s history through a staff-led tour while sharing their tagged photos on social media with #EmptyNMWA.

instameet_architecture

Left to right: @2020_productions photographs cookies; NMWA’s director of operations leads a tour

Gordon Umbarger, NMWA’s director of operations, explained the fascinating history behind the museum’s architecture. During an outdoor segment of the tour, attendees learned that Theodore Roosevelt laid the building’s cornerstone using the same gavel and trowel that George Washington used for the Capitol Building in 1793. @dc_explorer captured and shared this commonly overlooked feature.

Did you know that the building was first constructed as a Masonic temple in 1907 and women were not allowed entry? It seems fitting that today the building houses works by women artists! Visitors can detect traces of Masonic architecture around the museum. @korofina zoomed in on the building’s exterior frieze featuring the square and compass symbols. @buildings_of_dc captured the full building, which was designed in a Renaissance Revival style by prominent D.C. architect Waddy Wood, from a vantage point across street.

For additional income the Masons rented parts of the building to other local businesses, including George Washington University, a dentist, an insurance agent, and a uniform supply shop. The space hosted the Pix Theatre during the 1940s and early ’50s—until the Masons terminated the theater’s lease due to the sometimes racy nature of its movies. @kjhower1 captured decorative details that used to frame the movie screen.

In 1983, NMWA’s founders, Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, purchased the space and opened the museum to the public in 1987. Ten years later, the museum opened an addition within an adjoining building. Formerly a “D.C. pleasure palace,” the building was renamed the Elisabeth A. Kasser Wing, and it now houses NMWA’s Museum Shop and sculpture gallery.

Participants found more Insta-worthy subjects inside the museum. @cczablotney snagged an incredible photo of the museum’s Great Hall and one of its iconic chandeliers while @kaitlyntward focused on the marble balustrades. @beingdave even observed the benches in the Great Hall designed by Florence Knoll. Visitors also ventured into the collection galleries and special exhibitions. @setarrra photographed another participant mirroring a photograph from Tanya Habjouqa’s “Women of Gaza” series, on view in She Who Tells a Story.

It was a fun and creative Instameet! To see all the event’s photos, check out the Storify compilation or browse #EmptyNMWA on Instagram. Follow @WomenInTheArts on Instagram and Twitter to learn about future Instameet opportunities.

—Casey Betts is the summer 2016 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Louise Fishman: Freedom in the Abstract

“Even before the women’s movement, art gave me a sense of freedom and permission that anything was possible,” says abstract artist Louise Fishman (b. 1939). Featuring 50 years of Fishman’s boundary-pushing works, the catalogue Louise Fishman (DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2016) was published for her first-ever retrospective, at the Neuberger Museum of Art, as well as a concurrent exhibition of her small-scale paintings and sculptures, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia.

Insightful essays by Helaine Posner; Nancy Princenthal; and Carrie Moyer; together with Ingrid Schaffner’s interview with the artist, reveal how Fishman redefined the traditionally masculine Abstract Expressionist tradition. Profoundly influenced by feminist and Jewish cultures, Fishman experimented with materials, ideas, and styles to form her authentic artistic voice.

In an effort to purge male influence from her art, Fishman embraced traditionally feminine craft techniques through deconstructed paintings that were dyed, cut, and stitched back together. In her spontaneous word-based paintings—collectively known as the “Angry Paintings”—Fishman furiously scrawled the names of female writers, critics, and painters. “It was as if I’d gotten inside and exposed this anger with which we all identified,” says Fishman.

Louise Fishman, Two Hearts, 1981; Oil on linen, 22 in. x 19 in.; NMWA, Gift of Patsy Rogers and Lucille F. Goodman

Louise Fishman, Two Hearts, 1981; Oil on linen, 22 in. x 19 in.; NMWA, Gift of Patsy Rogers and Lucille F. Goodman

When she returned to painting after a five-year break, Fishman used a palette knife to create highly tactile works. Fishman says, “I was trying to make paintings that felt like objects.” In the late 1970s to early ’80s, Fishman’s small-scale abstractions referenced her renewed interest in Jewish history.

Fishman’s painting in NMWA’s collection, Two Hearts (1981), may allude to Talmudic literature, where the heart represents inclinations toward both good and evil. Eye-popping shades of red and white activate the painting’s two organic, oblong forms from their deep brown background, while traces of green peek through the densely built and scraped surface.

Another formative series, 19 “Remembrance and Renewal” paintings, combined paint and beeswax with human ashes that Fishman had gathered at Auschwitz. The artist says, “I felt like I had company in the studio. I had these voices with me and I could paint.” She later experimented with paper collage, blades, and carpet squares to form multi-layered and deeply personal works.

In the mid-20th century, Fishman’s identity as a lesbian and an abstract painter made her “doubly invisible,” writes Moyer. “While the rest of the art world catches up, Fishman’s painting keeps getting more and more expressive and capacious.”

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.

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

Art Fix Friday: July 8, 2016

The Huffington Post features NMWA artist Amy Sherald’s paintings. Sherald portrays her subjects with charcoal-gray hues against vibrantly colored backgrounds.

Sherald says, “These paintings originated as a creation of a fairytale, illustrating an alternate existence in response to a dominant narrative of black history.”

Front-Page Femmes

The Huffington Post celebrated the anniversary of Frida Kahlo’s birth with the artist’s own words of wisdom.

Rebecca Louise Law hangs over 8,000 flowers in The Beauty of Decay and plans to re-purpose the deteriorated flowers.

Shirley Tse describes her sculptures, gems for eyes, carving Styrofoam, and Oscar Wilde.

Martha Rosler explores gentrification and homelessness in the exhibition If you can’t afford to live here, mo-o-ove!!

Through knitting and crochet, street artist Julia Riordan creates rainbow-colored installations around Stockholm.

At Fort Tilden in Queens, Katharina Grosse painted a cinderblock building damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

Valeria Napoleone displays works from her private collection of contemporary art by women for the first time.

MK Guth curates an experience for two friends to sit, drink whiskey, and read a poem by Charles Baudelaire aloud.

The Art of Romaine Brooks highlights the work and life of a long-marginalized early 20th-century artist.

ARTnews goes behind-the-scenes of Lili Bernard’s Los Angeles studio.

Hyperallergic highlights Melanie Manchot’s two-part video installation shot in the Swiss Alpine valley of Engleberg.

A new solo exhibition for Vanessa Bell—Virginia Woolf’s sister—explores the talent of the pioneering British artist.

After 50 years of choreographing, Twyla Tharp reflects on her career.

Actress Noel Neill, known for her role as Lois Lane in The Adventures of Superman, died at the age of 95.

Mexican artist Mare Avertencia Lirika tries to redefine rap with feminist messages.

Bustle highlights 19 women-led bands to listen to.

Slate calls Dorthe Nors’s twinned novellas, So Much for that Winter, “a stunning meditation on female art-making.”

Though trained as a visual artist, Cammisa Buerhaus and her musical work involving a “sculptural pipe organ” defy easy categorization.

Shows We Want to See

NMWA artist Patricia Piccinini presents surreal sculptures, drawings and a video work in San Francisco. The artist explores themes including of genetic variation and modification, the natural versus the unnatural, and love and parenthood.

Carmen Herrera’s paintings of brightly colored geometric paintings will be on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in September. Herrera, now 101-years-old, sold her first work late in life—at age 89.

Katherine Joseph—Every Minute Counts on view at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education presents a vision of Roosevelt-Era social and political culture through the lens of photojournalist Katherine Joseph.

Janelle Iglesias’s installation at the University of Colorado Art Museum “draws corollaries between selections from the CU Museum of Natural History, the university’s greenhouse, and the art museum’s permanent collection.”

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

New Documentary in “She Who Tells a Story”

NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World is organized around three themes: New Documentary, Constructing Identities, and Deconstructing Orientalism.

She Who Tells a Story artists use artistic and documentary techniques to both depict experiences and address concerns about the medium of photography. Through staging, editing, and other manipulations, artists like Gohar Dashti and Rula Halawani question the objectivity of the photograph while expressing deeper truths about their subjects.

The Legacy of War

Gohar Dashti’s series “Today’s Life and War” shows the everyday activities of a couple in a fictionalized battlefield. Dashti, who grew up during the Iran-Iraq war (1980–88), says that her series “represents war and its heritage, how it permeates all aspects of contemporary society.” Concerned with capturing moments that ”reference the ongoing duality of life and war without precluding hope,” Dashti’s staged photographs convey the legacy of war.

Gohar Dashti, Untitled #2, from the series “Today’s Life and War,” 2008; Chromogenic print, 27 5/8 x 41 3/8 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum purchase with funds donated by the Weintz Family Harbor Lights Foundation, 2013.555; © Gohar Dashti

Gohar Dashti, Untitled #2, from the series “Today’s Life and War,” 2008; Chromogenic print, 27 5/8 x 41 3/8 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum purchase with funds donated by the Weintz Family Harbor Lights Foundation, 2013.555; © Gohar Dashti

Untitled #2 depicts a female figure hanging white cloths over barbed wire. In the blurred background, viewers can detect a male figure and military vehicles. The scene’s strange, dramatic elements emphasize its artificiality. Dashti’s photograph symbolizes the presence of war in everyday life rather than depicting real events. The barbed wire enclosure evokes borders and restriction, while the act of hanging white cloths suggests both mundane tasks like laundry and a longing for peace.

Violence and Erasure

“Negative Incursions” was Rula Halawani’s first artistic project after she left the field of photojournalism. A Palestinian living in East Jerusalem, the artist captured these images during the 2002 Israeli incursion into the West Bank. Rather than produce standard journalistic images, Halawani enlarged the negatives and printed them with a thick black border.

Rula Halawani, Untitled VI, from the series “Negative Incursions,” 2002; Chromogenic print, 35 1/2 x 48 7/8 in.; © Courtesy of the artist and the Ayyam Gallery

Rula Halawani, Untitled VI, from the series “Negative Incursions,” 2002; Chromogenic print, 35 1/2 x 48 7/8 in.; © Courtesy of the artist and the Ayyam Gallery

Her use of negatives suggests military imagery and draws attention to the technical processes of photography. “Negative Incursions” acknowledges the bias of all representations, even photographs, and encourages viewers to look for distortions elsewhere. Thick black borders framing the images—reminiscent of a television screen—echo this by critiquing media bias and inattention to Palestinian suffering.

Halawani’s technique also encourages viewers to approach these scenes from a fresh perspective, eliciting new responses from audiences whose exposure to the conflict has been oversaturated with graphic images of war and violence. Her disorienting negative images draw the viewer into an alien landscape, prompting shock and horror upon closer inspection. Not only a document of real events, Halawani’s series represents a collective experience of suffering, the subjectivity of the medium of photography, and the “negation of [Palestinian] reality” by military violence and media indifference.

New Stories

Dashti and Halawani both document their own experiences and the collective experience of their generation, community, or culture. Using art photography together with documentary techniques, they question the links between photojournalistic photography and a single, objective truth. Their creative interventions infuse their works with meaning and challenge the neutrality of mainstream narratives, making room for other stories to be told.

—Kait Gilioli is the summer 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Wordplay and Whimsy: Priya Pereira’s Book Art

NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) currently features an exhibition showcasing works by book Mumbai-based artist Priya Pereira. The artist explores Indian culture, history, time, and language in her contemporary creations. Ten of her books will be on display until November 18, 2016.

Book artist Priya Pereira; Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Book artist Priya Pereira; Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Pereira received her training in graphic design from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Bardoa, Western India. After graduating, she worked for five years in advertising, which later came to inform her artistic mindset. Pereira says, “Having studied graphic design and thanks to advertising, I came to artists’ books from a place where ‘idea’ was the most important thing… The most thrilling part is coming up with an idea.” In 1993 she moved to the United States to study computer art at Memphis College of Art. In a papermaking class at school, she learned about book binding and began creating book art—a genre she did not know existed until years later.

Pereira returned to India and continued to create books: innovative, vibrant works of art. Beyond using traditional materials like paper and string, Pereira incorporates mirrored surfaces and iron. Her books prompt viewers to rethink the medium’s limits. Whimsical, bold—even comical—her work tackles the complexities of contemporary life in India. The artist cites “living and breathing in India” as a major source of her artistic inspiration.

In one work, The Book of F (1999), the artist uses wordplay and humor. Each page of the small book has short lyrics composed of words that start with F. Pereira describes it as “dotted with ditties that popularize the ‘F’ word without once mentioning the most used and abused word.”

Priya Pereira, The Other Side of ABC, interior, 2003; Artist's book published by Pixie Bks, Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Priya Pereira, The Other Side of ABC, interior, 2003; Artist’s book published by Pixie Bks, Photo: Lee Stalsworth

NMWA’s exhibition also features a set of booklets titled The Other Side of ABC (2003). Their structure and composition recall that of a child’s toy. Pereira explains, “The structure of the book is based on a street toy sold by the wandering balloon sellers along with plastic watches and other cheap toys. The original toy is not an alphabet book, but has pictures of different fruits, modes of transportation, et cetera, and in the center is a piece of glass, not a mirror as I have used.” The interiors of Pereira’s booklets reveal depictions of Indian street art as well as letters surrounding the mirrors.

Priya Pereira has published limited-edition works under the imprint Pixie Bks for the last 23 years. Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see a selection of the artist’s books, and use an in-gallery iPad to scroll through the pages of ditties in The Book of F. Located on the museum’s the fourth floor, the LRC is open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Casey Betts is the summer 2016 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.