The New BLK Ad Agency, Art Gallery, and Creative Think Tank is an “all boys house” according to Shawn Bainbridge, co-owner. This makes the venue an even more interesting site for Les Femmes Folles: VOICE the current feminist art exhibition now on view.

Curated by Sally Deskins and Megan Loudon Sanders, the exhibition features work by Marcia Joffe-Bouska, Sally Deskins, Wanda Ewing, Kristin Lubbert, Jewel Noll, Melanie Pruittt, Amy Quinn, Megan Loudon Sanders, Trudie Teijink, Trilety Wade, and Ella Weber. Though the work by these 11 artists voices the experience of each woman represented, the collective impact begs the question “What is feminist art?”

Joffe-Bouska’s contemplative sculptures amplify the interior voices of how people talk to themselves. “My art is my way of thinking about life, relationships, and the human condition,” she said during the Artists’ Talk. “It’s a universal thing, maybe with women more acutely, qualities that affirm our worth.”  Each of the exquisitely crafted sculptures presents a nest as birth place. The different materials used in each become inventive metaphor for individual people.

Using her body as her tool, Deskins paints herself with children’s tempera paint, and then prints her body on canvas or paper. This ironic objectification of her body creates a uniquely ambiguous image with its own inherent power. As a feminist strategy, it becomes even more interesting since the process of using models as “living brushes” was created by a man, Yves Klein, in the 1960’s. “I was blown away when I saw an exhibition of his work two years ago,” Deskins said.

Ewing’s latch-hook yarn rugs are further exploration of her intriguing use of figure-ground tension in challenging assumptions regarding race and beauty.  Ewing’s earlier series Black as Pitch, Hot as Hell Pinups and Wallflower Pinups presented these assumptions with graphic clarity. The latch-hook yarn rugs bordered with sequins are a bold expansion in concept. The balance of warm fuzzy with shiny sparkle presents a nuanced tactility. The Rorschach format in “Spring” opens new territory for questions surrounding identity.

Performance artist Lubbert, along with friends Rachel Tomlinson Dick and Rebecca Luta Lee, used improvisation with dance to explore the connection between mind and body. They re-interpreted notes written by attendees to embody the stories of others. “The level of trust and intimacy we created when rehearsing,” Dick said, “took us to a place of power, and a chance to heal from my own story.”

“I don’t consider myself a feminist and don’t want to box myself in,” Noll said. “I’m a list maker and a believer in systems. That’s how a household runs smoothly.” “Thinking in Lists” is an installation of typed lists of things to get done layered with handwritten lists of things which float through her mind. “I waxed the paper to make it transparent and hoped, as each viewer walked by, the paper would breathe and all their cares would float away.” This compelling piece presents a lucid and engaging “mind in process.” How does the balance between thought and action form identity?

Pruitt’s black and white ink drawings take Art Nouveau female stylizations into uncharted territory. The use of line and mark to create these psychological portraits is skillfully executed. “Regurgitation, Gossip, and Reputation’ and “Intention to Deceive” are each memorable in their illumination of what can lay beneath the skin of surface appearance.

Tattoos in the context of social propriety are the theme of Loudon Sanders’ series. Her impeccable craftsmanship performs double duty.  The presentation of the series theme is juxtaposed with the consideration of tattooing as an art form in its own right. There is more going on here than appears at first glance.

Teijink is reconciling the repetition of household labor with finding beauty in the mundane. Teijink is influenced by the Vanitas tradition of her native Netherlands. Enlarging photographs of family meal leftovers, printing them on fabric and then sewing them into pillows was her process in creating the installation “Recurrence.” “My work is autobiographical and a part of everyday life,” she said. “How does all this labor make sense?”

Wade uses her body to focus on “the barriers to communication in connecting with others.” The photographs of her own body are particularly self-referential. Separating eroticism from the politics of gender might inform the communication barriers Wade is grappling with.

Weber uses art history and popular culture to challenge notions of iconic authority. The drawing “But Is she Worth It?” questions preconceptions of race and gender simultaneously. The overall theme of Weber’s work is individual identity and how it continuously evolves from childhood on.

Listening to the voices of each artist who spoke at the Artist’s Talk was an added bonus to the experience of the exhibition.  Alecia Pyle, one of the audience members “is loving the efforts” of Omaha’s Les Femmes Folles. “These women are standing strong in who they are,” said Pyle. “It helps me ask what I can do within to be proud of who I am.”

Les Femmes Folles Presents: VOICE, April 13-30, 2012, The New BLK 1213 Jones Street, Omaha, NE, 402-403-5619, THENEWBLK.COM


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