The jewel-toned colors of the walls — in hues of dark purple, blue and magenta — will probably be what catches your eye first. Once inside the gallery though, you’ll find a lot of eyes looking back at you.
She Stares Back, which opened in early November, is the Kendall College of Art and Design’s latest exhibition, curated by Michele Bosak, KCAD Curator of Exhibitions. It couldn’t have a more appropriate title, given the works selected.
“All of these pieces in the exhibit are displaying women,” Bosak said. “They are asserting their voice — they are showing women as both the subject and the object.”
Spread throughout the gallery are nearly 30 pieces from women artists hand-selected by Bosak, each of which takes a deeper look into how women are represented, and those who are often underrepresented.
“Depending on how society frames the (male) gaze and focuses on certain areas, there are always a lot of people who are obscured; they aren’t visible,” Bosak said. “I think that visibility and looking at a variety of experiences and backgrounds is really important.”
She Stares Back does just that through the work of all eight artists from across the globe: María María Acha-Kutscher, Laura Callaghan, Sara Cwynar, Mira Dancy, Lalla Essaydi, Maja Malou Lyse, Shelley Newman Stevens, and Iiu Susiraja.
Their works are as diverse as where the women live, in mediums like digital prints on tarps, interactive video, illustration, paintings and poetry. Each deals with themes ranging from self-image and beauty ideals to feminism and activism.
Given today’s political climate, She Stares Back is timely, with some pieces looking at issues like climate change, the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“You can look at the show as a feminist perspective, you can look at the show as an all-women show, or you can look at this show as representation and experience specific artists,” Bosak said. “I think so often there’s a lot of stereotypes, or we make a lot of assumptions when we look at others, and there are so many facets and components and characteristics that make us the people that we are.”
In order to help break down those stereotypes, the exhibition represents women from all backgrounds. Bosak deliberately searched for women of color and older women.
For example, Michigan artist Shelley Newman Stevens has three paintings in the exhibition.
“As an older artist myself, I’m keenly interested in, and always have been, women’s issues and life from a feminine perspective,” Stevens said.
She described her pieces as figurative works, using the word “portrait” in a very loose sense to describe her paintings of the three very real, older women. Her intent was to bring more visibility to older women inparticular. These three pieces come from her ongoing series, An Army of Women.
With an exhibit like this, one full of women starting a conversation about a multitude of women’s issues, Stevens said it’s very empowering. She said she was just happy to be a part of an exhibition that really matters.
“To help, even in a small way, is to be a little bit of a force of change,” Stevens said.
Her point connects with a question Bosak asked each of the artists and is part of the show’s description: “Does the artist/designer’s ability to shape the worldview of future generations come with a responsibility?”
For artists like Stevens, it sure seems to, with their works helping to continue the conversation of how women are represented in the world and how to change that focus on the male gaze.
“People should be prepared to see women in a light which perhaps they’ve never encountered before,” Stevens said. “The women who are portrayed in this exhibition, whether they are the artist or the subjects, they are not typical. They are staring, but they are also talking back.”
She Stares Back
The Fed Galleries @ Kendall College of Art and Design
17 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids
Through Jan. 26
kcad.edu, (616) 451-2787