Women were not allowed into art school until the late 1800s.
And once women were allowed in, they weren’t allowed to draw the human figure –– considered the best practice to learn observation drawing at the time –– since it was considered “improper” for women to draw a naked model.
Almost 200 years later, UB’s Department of Art created an exhibit to amplify the voice of women artists.
“Unspeakable,” an exhibit curated by Skylar Borgstrom, is available for viewing in the Center for the Arts Lower Art Gallery until Nov. 8. The exhibit highlights four female artists from around the world and portrays topics that “make people uncomfortable” with their photography, sculptures and drawings. On average, only 30% of artists represented in commercial U.S. galleries are women, according to Hyperallergic.
UB’s art department asked Borgstrom, ‘16 studio art alum, to create a project focused on women, as Borgstrom researches the feminist movement in the U.S. Curating this project “made sense” for her.
“I think a lot of times shows get curated based on a very specific theme in terms of what the content of the work is talking about, [as] opposed to saying to a group of women, ‘You can talk about whatever is important to you,’” Borgstrom said. “So, giving them that opportunity, giving them that forum, was really the impetus behind this show.”
Borgstrom said she wanted to give women the opportunity to have a voice, saying they aren’t always heard through media and culture. She believes students need to see artwork which highlights that in “Unspeakable.”
“They need to investigate for themselves where they think equality stands currently in this country and for me to encounter students who think that feminism is dead or that it’s not important, tells me that this kind of exhibition is necessary,” Borgstrom said.
Artists Katherine Gaudy, Daesha Devón Harris, Sarah Maple and Kaitlin Mason are all in different points in their careers, but now share the gallery, which “speaks different truths” to each of them.
Daesha Devón Harris, a ‘17 visual art alum from Saratoga Springs, NY, created a photographic art element titled “Crossing Jordan.” The photos describe the physical and psychological “crossing” that many women encounter, whether it be metaphorically crossing inner struggles or physically crossing borders.
Borgstrom said Harris’ work explores “agency” and what that means to a person of color in America.
Sarah Maple is an artist from Sussex, England and displays art in “Unspeakable” that directly calls out treatment of women artists. The photographic piece depicts a male artist fully clothed and a female artist seemingly nude with fake breasts.
Her work emphasizes the idea of female artists being considered “second class” and “claiming control” over their work and selves.
“She’s reclaiming her identity as a Muslim and female artist in a world that likes to pigeon hole us or use these things as derogatory,” Mark Snyder, art resource manager and gallery director, said.
Kaitlin Mason, an emerging artist from Toronto, Ontario, drew women’s underwear for the exhibit, which is on the exhibit banner.
Mason’s piece makes gallery viewers do a double take. While most think they are photos, they are actually colored-pencil drawings on wood, which Snyder describes as “staggering.”
“Women are quite underrepresented within galleries, so to have the opportunity to exhibit an entire series of work with other women artists is really amazing,” Mason said.
Mason hopes her drawings leave an impact on viewers by showing them what’s possible with the simplest of materials.
The artist says she chose to draw female intimates to “explore the details of everyday garments” and emphasize the alluring idea of what is seen and what is hidden.
“Self-empowerment often starts from within,” Mason said. “This series acts as a reminder for self-care, to do something, no matter how small.”
Katherine Gaudy, a ‘16 art history alum, takes a physical approach to artwork. For her photographic series, Gaudy created sets that looked to be out of a painting and photographed herself on set, appearing to be in the art.
In another work, she shows a film of her dragging a 3D, double-ended arrow into Lake Erie as the tide pushes it away. She says the video represents the constant back-and-forth struggle of how society treats women and how art society treats female artists, showing the “different iterations of struggle.”
Snyder said he appreciates the variety of artists in the exhibit and believes the work in the gallery is meant to make viewers “walk away thinking.”
“We’re trying to expose the students to a greater wealth of experience,” Snyder said. “Here, they have the opportunity to see living, functioning artists from around the globe from all different mediums.”
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