Hello readers and welcome back to FabArt. I’m your editor, Akiko Surai, here with a new woman centered art show. This past week I was up in Los Angeles trying to escape some unseasonably warm weather (spoiler alert, it did not work. Also, cry me a river Akiko, the rest of the hemisphere is frozen.) and I stopped by the California African American Museum for the newest installment in their courtyard series; a group show titled From Women’s Hands. As a whole I found the show to be interesting and very well executed, but I thought the themes approached in the work could have been represented better.
This was my first visit to the CAAM which is a bit embarrassing considering I grew up in southern California and admission is ALWAYS free. The museum was established in the late 70’s and opened their doors to the public during the Olympic games of 1984. Their mission is to “research, collect, preserve and interpret for public enrichment the history of arts and culture of African Americans with emphasis on California and the western United States.” It’s a daunting mission for any institution, but a quick browse through the galleries and online archive shows that they do a fantastic job representing a hugely diverse cast of characters. The same can be said for From Women’s Hands, which proudly displays a mixed bag of talent.
The five women whose work is currently installed in the CAAM’s beautiful 14,000 square foot atrium all live and work in California.The pieces themselves are varied, as you would expect from any group show. Each voice is distinct but after spending some time in the gallery, overlapping themes start to emerge. Michelle Robinson’s piece, “Fire in my Belly” alludes to the creative forces that generate art and the biological forces that generate life. Her mix of geometric and organic abstraction is applied directly to the wall and a three dimensional pyramid with paint, marker, and gold leaf. Bre Gibson also explores the creative process and its relationship to time and place. With her site-specific mural, “Evidence of things unseen” Gibson has traced a meditative composition in line and color which will only exist for the duration of this show.
Kristine Mays takes a different approach to time as she captures ephemeral moments and movement in her wire sculptures of women’s clothing. Mays draws your attention to the body by excluding it, leaving only the impression of the figure recorded in the drape of heavily worked metal “fabric.” Also dealing with the body is Castillo, who has installed 3 six-foot domes covered in synthetic and human hair. These minimalist yet overwhelming pieces are conceptual portraits shifting conversations towards identity, beauty politics, history and heritage.
And finally, Raksha Parekh brings yet another investigation of history with her piece, “Crossings 2014.” Crossings is a very labor intensive tapestry-like object of raw cotton, fabric, and sugar that has been burnt, stained and sewn together bringing to mind issues of colonialism, forced labor, cultural history, and diaspora.
With these women making such intentional strides to address both tangible and intangible issues, I was very unpleasantly surprised at museum’s own commentary about the exhibition. The wall text was wonderfully informative but the take away materials provided were borderline patronizing. According to CAAM, the show is about “female presence and agency,” which is true because they are all women making work about their experience. Other than that, however, they really missed the mark. Castillo and May’s work is reduced to being about “traditional sources of female power and beauty.” Suddenly, Gibson and Robinson’s curved lines are stand-ins for the female body. This is a reach, and worse, it’s a boring reach. My favorite piece was handled the worst of all. The choices that Parekh made with her materials and process were clearly intentional and a beautiful way to subtly, but clearly talk about slavery and labor. (Cotton! Sugar! Sugar Cane! A diagram of a slave ship!) Why, then, does the website say she is exploring domesticity? I understand they want to present the show as a unified front, but I’d like to think it’s possible to be ambiguous without being reductive.
This show could have been a real exploration into what “women’s work” is or can look like. The simple fact that all the artists are women of color from the same state could have been enough to tie it together. Bottom line, it sounds like whoever wrote about ‘From Women’s Hands’ never saw it; and had I read the write ups before encountering the work, I would not have wanted to see it either. I’m glad I did though, and I’d recommend it to anybody in the area regardless of gender. In the future I’d like to see more shows like this billed as what they are: art by women about the human experience.
To view the exhibition and learn more about the artists, visit CAAM in Los Angeles or click HERE.
Originally published by FabulouslyFeminist.com
Feature image via the author