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Milwaukee Artists Display the Physical Side of Feminism

Jan. 17, 2017
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What does feminism mean, and what does it look like? “Feminism,” the current exhibition at Var Gallery described as “a multimedia exhibition inspired by feminism; our reflections and our hopes,” takes on this complex and provocative subject. More than a dozen local artists have taken part, mostly women, and it is interesting to note points of commonalty, shared interests and issues. 

A main leitmotif in the exhibition is the body. This can take the form of physical attributes, such as in Maeve Jackson’s video still print series in which a black woman unwraps a pale blue scarf from her head, revealing her full and voluptuous hair. The poem “The Stories She Tell” by Destinny Fletcher is posted alongside the visual piece and records the feelings of hair as a journal and as a part of personal identity and expression. In a more tangled way, the digital print by Sara Shuler, Hairbrush: Lilly and Sara, is a dark, abstract web, revealed by the title to be the remnants of daily grooming.

The body in three-dimensional form appears over and over in Valerie Tatera’s relief sculpture, Becoming. In this multi-piece work, a female figure is contorted in variations of shapes and poses, sometimes with parts of limbs detached. There is something torturous about it, as though undergoing a painful but unavoidable metamorphosis. It’s an emotive image that could apply to feminist issues as well as the broad range of human experience.

One of the most powerful pieces in the exhibition shares this quality. Erin Pfaff, who curated the exhibition with Cristina Ossers, shows her installation titled Don’t Fuck Up. There is a manual typewriter with a stack of paper, some crumpled on the floor. The wall opposite is papered with sheets with the installation title written over and over. Sometimes it appears as a single sentence, sometimes in slanting paragraphs and other typographic designs. It is repeated like a mantra. It strikes a note that men and women can both relate to, and in the context of this exhibition, balances on the edge of feminist power and vulnerability.

Through Feb. 4 at Var Gallery, 643 S. Second St. 

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