The Rush Rhees Library gallery at the Art and Music Library is a somewhat unassuming space, but its latest collection makes a big impression.
Composed of 10 works of art created by undergraduate students here at UR, ‘(En)Gendered: Identity, Gender and Art” is a free annual exhibit supported by the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies that explores the construction of male and female identity and sexuality through art. Running through Feb. 8, the show is worth a visit, not only for its thought-provoking concept, but also for the sheer talent of all the artists involved.
The show opened Friday, Jan. 16, to a relatively large crowd of student artists, professors and other members of the UR community. Regional art exhibit curator Sarah Webb kicked off the event by speaking about the ideas behind the exhibit, specifically the play on words ‘(En)Gendered,” which implies that gender is a construction produced in a similar manner to art.
She also spoke of some of the overriding thematic elements of the art as a whole, such as art history references and the questioning of gender stereotypes, before the discussion moved onto individual examinations of each of the pieces within the show.
The 10 pieces in the exhibit were selected from a group of about 80 undergraduate submissions, originally displayed at Sage Art Center, by three judges: UR Director of Art and Art History Allen Topolski, Director of the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies Joan Saab and Director of the Susan B. Anthony Institute Jeff Runner.
‘[The pieces ultimately chosen had] the clearest meshing of craft of concept where materials were intrinsically bound to ideas and the artist’s intention was most creatively voiced,” Topolski said.
Indeed, each of the 10 pieces was not only skillfully crafted, but thoughtfully accompanied by oftentimes deeply personal descriptions of the work’s relation to gender and identity issues. Some artists wrote abstract observations on life and the universe to accompany their pieces.
‘We can picture ourselves in bliss but we cannot grasp it,” freshman Rachel Franz wrote. ‘We can come out of the closet but we can never go back in.”
Others, like sophomore Margaret Ball, wrote shorter, more direct questions or statements on their own personal experiences with gender and identity.
‘There is so much difference in the way others see me and the way I see myself,” Ball wrote. ‘Will painting a self-portrait help me explain to others what I believe is true?”
Ultimately, the judges whittled the submissions down even further to three artists who were each awarded a grant of $150. Junior Eva Xie, sophomore Shirley Zimmer and senior Katy Tompkins were the recipients of the top prizes, which were handed out at the opening ceremony by Webb.
Xie’s piece, a linocut print entitled ‘As Nature Formed?” depicts a girl from the Yao village in China whose face is obscured by long, dark hair. The piece is centered around the idea that the women of this particular village were for many years neither able to cut their hair nor show it in public.
Zimmer’s piece, done in acrylic, latex and metallic paint in an iconic, religious style, portrays UR President Joel Seligman’s wife, Frederike, as UR’s ‘own patron saint of the arts.”
Tompkins’s piece in particular stands out from the rest of the exhibit, as it is a dress made entirely of safety pins.
‘What if the dress looked amazing from a distance, but as people walked toward you, they realized what you were wearing?” Topkins wondered in her description of the work. ‘How much should we pay to be the sexiest woman in the room?”
The three winning pieces especially stood out in terms of their originality of medium and subject. But, in looking at the talent and skill with which all the exhibit’s pieces were created and the way in which the topics of gender and identity were utilized, the pieces seemed, to the untrained eye, to be fairly on par with one another, making the exhibit as a whole very strong.
The ‘(En)Gendered” collection can provoke some sincere contemplation on often unexplored aspects of gender, identity, society and art.
The fact that the exhibit surrounds an intellectual issue can inspire even a casual viewer to become aware of how, as Topolski put it, ‘art communicates actively better than it decorates passively.”
Even for students with little interest in art, the exhibit is worth a visit, not only for the social issues it raises, but simply to see the impressive level of artistic talent and creativity that exists on campus. The art on display in the Rush Rhees Library gallery is most certainly worth a stop for any UR student. Considering that it is free and on the way to the library, there really is no reason not to go.
Healy is a member of
the class of 2011.