Berlinde De Bruyckere, Marthe, 2008
The United Nations, Barbie & I
Socio-political exhibit explores identity, conflict & resolution
BY DOROTHY A. WILSON
This past March, I unintentionally celebrated Womens History Month for the very first time, and between the Barbie 50th Anniversary Beauty Pageant I entered and a socio-political art exhibit I went to (UN-SCR-1325 at Chelsea Art Museum), I finally made up for decades of ignorance.
As a child, I loved playing with Barbie (think I Enjoy Being a Girl by Peggy Lee), and because Im also turning 50 this year, both events sounded interesting even though Ive finally come to the conclusion that Barbie was in fact the role model that inspired Divine (see Female Trouble by John Waters). Yes Virginia, Barbie has a dark side. Granted, shes held some remarkable careers; but surely,. her unrealistic body proportions (and all those full heads of perfect hair) are the cause of personal angst subliminal or otherwise.
Identity plus conflict and resolution is one of the central themes in the UN-SCR-1325 exhibit. Its a diverse collection of artwork about critical issues that concern women all ages, throughout the world and history (not just one month per year). Curated by Jan Van Woensel, it explores the impact of war on women. And though it reflects horror, violence and sexism, the underlying message is positive. The shows title refers to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which addresses and advances conflict prevention and resolution, fundamental rights and sustainable peace.
Featuring eight Belgium and eight American artists with strong academic foundations, UN-SCR-1325 confronts the viewer with a wide range of interpretations on trauma, femininity, devastation and discrimination, past and present. Most of the works are figurative, and the artistic mediums and techniques used throughout include sculpture, video and audio, paint, ink, metal, fabric, photography, assemblage and mixed media. All are personal, symbolic visions about the protection and advancement of womens issues.
For me, the most disturbing yet masterful piece in the exhibit is Berlinde De Bruyckeres classical (wax) sculpture of a bruised and inflamed nude Marthe, whos withering, mutated arms are melting into the ground, taking root; from behind, you see that she is in a crouching position, and cannot help but notice a disturbing and abnormal violation.
A far more entertaining display of art is an assemblage by Kathleen Hanna and Becca Albee that contains to go kits and survival tools, from knives and box-cutters to paperback books like How to Meditate (which Ive never been able to do), The Worst Case Scenario, a personal favorite, and Gift of Fear, a #1 national bestseller. As a former Girl Scout of America, I must say I was impressed by the wide range of thoughtful supplies: coffee, keys, flashlights, tissues, a mirror, sneakers, a white umbrella, water, a packet of Emergen-C powdered vitamins, writing materials, a NYC subway map, one! tiny tampon and a whistle (even though matches, a radio and batteries were not included).
Two separate and exemplary oil paintings/portraits by Cindy Wright and Karin Hanssen capture the intense essence of a woman who doesnt look like shes had an especially good day, or life (neither is in any mood to make eye contact). One of them wears a necklace of thorns, her neck bleeding. A much larger piece of mixed media on paper by Kati Heck is composed of three topless females: a creepy shadow-person in the background (whos hand is holding one of the womens breasts) and one big (rather anonymous) green vegetable. Small, immature and obscene drawings/cartoons are scribbled beneath this triptych.
Jen DeNikes After the Gold Rush is a skimpy bikini made out of precious and semi precious metals, but its much more than just a fashion statement (a nearby padlock and chain are the unfortunate accessories). A sparse, oval mirror by Adrian Piper with the block-lettered, gold-leaf words EVERYTHING WILL BE TAKEN AWAY makes you stop, look and think as does Leah Singers unusual mobile/wall-hanging of colorful doilies punctuated with ribbons and scraps of latex balloons.
The image that is used on the cover of the exhibits promotional show card is a poem by Yoko Ono entitled Snow Piece. Jan Van Woensel feels these words are an emblematic announcement of peace and love...symbolic of conflict, resolution, stress, relief, hope and belief. It sends out a strong message, and is an extension of the exhibition. According to Mr. Woensel, an independent curator, critic, scholar and musician based in New York, next year will be the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and he will be doing a similar show in the main hall at the United Nations here in NY (the first UN-SCR-1325 exhibit, organized by Yasmine Geukens and Marie-Paule De Vil, took place last year in Belgium). Woensel is also the founder, curator and editor-in-chief of New York Magazine of Contemporary Art and Theory.
Chelsea Art Museum is located in a 30,000 square-foot renovated building in a neighborhood Ive never particularly liked. Having lived in the East Village since the early 80s, I hated when all the cool galleries packed up and went Hollywood/Chelsea. But even though this distant environment and exhibition wasnt nearly as fun as the Barbie 50th Anniversary Beauty Pageant (which I did not win), Im glad I made the trip (by bus; subways dont go there and these days, I certainly wasnt going to waste money on a cab).
Kofi Annan, former UN head, once stated If women suffer the impact of conflict, they are also the key to the solution of conflict. The entire UN-SCR-1325 collection (which also includes two videos and several pieces of photography) fully embraces this important concept.