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“Convergence” celebrates ten years of feminist progress

By Juliette Martin

Section: Arts, Top Stories

September 7, 2012

This year, Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) celebrates its ten-year anniversary. The center, which was founded upon the principle of acting as an innovative meeting place between art, scholarship and activism, commemorates the occasion through a diverse show in the Kniznick Gallery called “Convergence.” The show reflects feminist values and many of the questions faced by the modern scholar of women’s studies as well as the modern woman. All of the artists who are, or have been associated with the center were invited to submit art for the gallery, which was then judged by faculty jurors Professor Susan Lichtman (FA) and Professor Peter Kalb (FA).

The show focuses on no particular theme, but is presented as a celebration of those who have contributed to the center over the course of its ten-year lifespan. Curator Michele L’Heureux commented that the art was selected to reflect the values of the center: “The central mission of the center is where research, art and activism converse, so art has always been a central part of it … so we wanted to celebrate ten years of artistic achievement at the center.” The show, she elaborates, is designed as a “coherent and diverse expression of what’s happened here.”

As reflected in the show’s name, “Convergence” is designed as an intersection, showcasing the many great accomplishments happening at the Women’s Studies Research Center. Though there is no one overarching theme, pieces of the show are designed to inspire conversation.

For example, the show places a depiction of the mother (“The Embroidery Lesson” by Ronni Kamarow) beside a depiction of the working woman (a photograph by Susan Eisenburg) raising questions about what it means to work as a woman. Also present are artistic conversations about containment in Louise Winebergs’s works, exploring the line between safety and oppression. The show features Karen Frostig’s colorful and angry depictions of carnage in painting and sculpture, L’Heureux’s exploration of gender ambiguity and much more.

“Convergence” is the meeting point of these and many more conversations; a celebration of everything the center has done and stands for. Other notable works include Karen Rosenthal’s “Granite Woman,” and Patti Cassidy’s photo exploration of the paradox between the connectivity of cell phones and the isolation that we impose upon ourselves when we use them. The gallery is full of works that explore the lives and concepts surrounding women, even dating back to medieval times (most notably in Mary Hamill’s “More Pawns,” a piece made from a modified book) and includes a vast array of media.

When questioned about the decision to include such a strong artistic base at the center in general, L’Heureux explained that the art they have shown reflects a strong feminist core.

“Art has always been a way that women and feminists in general have created social change or brought attention to social issues. It has been a valued form of expression for women … [and is] a piece that shouldn’t be missing from the combination of things that happened here … we created a research center that wasn’t just about writers, public speaking, [or] social activism,” L’Heureux said.

The center then, seeks to deal with art as a part of the complex social center at the heart of women’s studies, expressing the challenges and the portrayal of the modern woman through both scholarship and artistic endeavor, and showcases the success it has had in that field through “Convergence.”

The feminist art showcase in “Convergence” also represents a modern addition to the long artistic conversation regarding women. Traditionally, men have dominated the art world, with women playing their role only as subject and object.

Through contemporary art movements, however, “Women are reinventing the way they use their bodies, depict themselves, and the way women are depicted in general,” L’Heureux said.

“Though women are still dramatically the minority in the art world, they are more visible overall. So women artists and their work are shown a lot more, though certainly not nearly enough as it needs to be, then it was thirty years ago,” she said. “I think women artists and what they have to say is a little more central to the conversation, and I think depictions of women by both male and female artists have changed a lot.”

In the light of historical oppression, art is an important field to deal with in the overarching umbrella of feminism: creating art that shows the woman as actor and catalyst, not as object or prize, allows our society to move forward. “Convergence” presents art that fulfills such a role, exploring oppression and action in the context of women’s studies.

In closing, L’Heureux commented, “I wish there were more feminist art galleries, but I think that in general contemporary art galleries are trying to some extent to value the work of women in general, but also to put women in a different place in the making of art.”

“Convergence,” however, represents ten years of progress in the conversation surrounding women, art, scholarship and activism. The gallery will only be open until Sept. 14, and is truly an artistic display that is not to be missed.

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