Sunday, March 6, 2022

Women Take Issue - An Art Exhibit

"Florida's Flooded Future" by Patricia Turner
In the aptly named "Women Take Issue" exhibit, three female artists expressed their concerns about some of the issues facing our world today. The art of Patricia Turner, Beau Wild and Fran Gardner confronted the viewer with societal woes as varied as world hunger, mass shootings, the resurgence of white supremacy and the treatment of women. It was an incredibly powerful show.

In "Florida's Flooded Future," Turner highlights the effects of climate change, an issue that hits very close to home. In January, Sarasota received a $10M grant from the State of Florida for infrastructure projects that include raising Van Wezel Way and improving the shoreline at Bay Park to protect against erosion and damage caused by increased flooding. Miami Beach recently announced plans to raise some of its streets by two feet to counter rising seas. These are just two recent examples of measures state and local governments are taking to fight the effects of climate change.

In her piece, Turner has cleverly affixed two puzzles depicting Florida to her hand-dyed fabric that brings to mind the waters surrounding us. (If you can enlarge the images in this post, please do!) Both puzzles are partially covered with netting that represents rising waters. When I asked Turner how she came up with the idea of incorporating physical puzzles into the piece, she took a moment to consider. "Well," she said, "Dealing with climate change is a puzzle, isn't it?"  

"Some Very Fine People" by Patricia Turner 
Unabashedly political, Turner has created multiple works commenting on Trump's negative impact on our country. Words have consequences. So do actions -- or inaction. In "Some Very Fine People," Turner recalls Trump's comment that some of the protesters in the United the Right rally were "very fine people." 

As I'm sure you remember, Unite the Right was a gathering of white nationalists -- people who self-identify as Neo-Nazis and Klansmen and similar groups fueled by hatred -- who opposed a vote by the Charlottesville City Council to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from city property.  Turner's work incorporates the torches that some of these individuals carried during the march.  It's hard to interpret the torches as anything other than a threat of violence. It's even harder to interpret the rally as anything other than a precursor to the storming of the Capitol on January 6th. 

"Hear Me Roar" by Beau Wild
Beau Wild says she "explores the emotional landscape of the individual" in her work. "Hear Me Roar" might be the first painting I've seen with a tagline on the wall card. It reads, "Encouragement. Support. Challenges. Growth." So her figure is not only a woman with ideas and opinions, but one who understands the value of working with others to achieve collective goals. 

What you might not notice at first glance is that the woman's mouth has been sewn shut. Spools of thread create a line of demarcation between her and the text which reads, in part, "I will not silence my voice now" and "my time." 

I would be remiss not to mention the beauty of the woman Wild has created. (Wild's brushwork and use of color are gorgeous.) If only we could all age so gracefully. Perhaps, though, the woman's beauty is one reason she hasn't been taken as seriously as her male counterparts. 

"Empath" by Fran Gardner 
In Fran Gardner's artist statement, she talks about the inspiration she finds in petroglyphs, architecture and graffiti. "Think about the caves of Lascaux, the pyramids and the surfaces of train cars," she says. Her work, like the art forms referenced, "speak to the human urge for mark leaving, referring to that enduring historical record while becoming a part of it." 

In "Empath," viewers can clearly see what Gardner means by this statement. Her mixed media piece is filled with marks and writings and images that give the work an ancient and magical feel. Then there is the central figure, a woman beautifully painted in a style that is simultaneously realistic and abstract. But why is she naked? Does it represent her vulnerability? And why is she in this position on the ground? Has her empathy caused her to become physically overwhelmed? 

Detail from "Empath" by Fran Gardner
Most people look at a work of art for less than 30 seconds before moving on. (Hence the rise of the slow art movement.) But a viewer is rewarded for taking the time to really look at the detail in "Empath." The writing below the figure provides the explanation for her emotion. It reads, in part, "in december 2012 a gunman walked into Sandy Hook elementary school in New Town Connecticut and killed 20 children 6 adults and himself since then there have been more than 1600 mass shootings..."  One of those shootings was the 2018 murder of 17 people at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, a high school in my sister's community of Parkland, Florida. 

"Women Take Issue" was an exhibit that made me uncomfortable and upset and angry. It was a strong reminder of the power of art. I suspect this is exactly what Turner hoped for when putting the show together. To listen to an interview on NPR with Turner about the exhibit, click here. For more on Turner and her work, click here. For more on Beau Wild and her art, click here. And for more on Fran Gardner and her work, click here. The exhibit was hosted by the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers.  

Here's to taking the time to explore art with meaning. 

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