Thursday, March 08, 2018

Redefining “the spaces of femininity” at the Georgia Museum of Art

Gallery Talk: Art + Feminism on March 3
Today, on International Women’s Day, my friend Catherine cakes a canvas with wet colorful paint in the semi-chaos of an art studio. Another peer, Mary, calculates neat equations in a classroom on North Campus. And Isabelle conducts experiments in the austere excitement of a science laboratory. For each of these women, these spaces and activities are all relatively normal environments.

In the past, however, spaces like studios, classrooms and laboratories were not always available to women. Contesting intellectual and artistic real estate in galleries, museums and universities has required commitment to craft and their works of art. In art and science, entering new spaces redefines what it means to be a woman. During the month of March, for National Women’s History Month, the Georgia Museum of Art is providing a space for scholars, students and visitors to discuss gender and art.

The month started with some intellectual discussion and online activism. Sarah Kate Gillespie, curator of American art at the museum, and Nell Andrew, associate professor of art history at UGA, led more than 40 attendees through the galleries on March 3. Their talk focused on the intersection between modernity and feminism in art history. Gillespie described how art historians “rediscovered” women artists in the 1970s as demand for female-made works of art increased. This discovery contrasted with the erroneous belief that no female masters existed because of a lack of training and opportunity.

Andrew explained that often women were given a “smaller range of vision” for what was considered appropriate to paint. Scenes of the family, domesticity and portraiture were popular among women artists. Additionally, works by men depicting women often placed them in the background of a painting. Andrew discussed Griselda Pollock’s argument in her essay “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity,” which highlights the limiting dimensions of space for women. In the 21st century, these dimensions look different and continue to evolve.

After the gallery talk, visitors headed to the Lamar Dodd Art Library for the “Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon.” Wikipedia, as a crowd-sourced pool of information, provides many with a quick definition or explanation. Its entries and contributors remain largely skewed male, meaning it does not adequately inform visitors of the historical contributions of women. At the event, attendees received training on how to edit Wikipedia articles and an extensive list of incomplete pages. While they worked, qualified women in the room naturally discussed interview techniques, networking and even salary negotiations. These conversations expand the range of vision.

After the event on Saturday, I met yet another woman redefining the female environment: Kaira Macentire, a doctoral student in wildlife biology at the University of Georgia. She told me that she learned a lot during the gallery talk and was motivated to take art history again. In addition to her scientific interests, Kaira is an artist. She creates works of pottery adorned by salamanders and frogs. She views her work as a source of communication about the diversity of aquatic life. I am grateful to live in a world increasingly defined by diverse female identities and spaces.

McKenzie Peterson
Intern, Department of Communications

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