This exhibition examines issues of the rampant violence during WWII, the Vietnam War, the rise of the Khmer Rouge and other conflicts where innocent non-combatants were affected. While these conflicts impacted everyone, women, children, elderly and the infirm suffered to a greater extent because of their vulnerability. Women especially were the subject of sexual assault and exploitation, and their bodies were often and still are, violated as a war tactic. The plight of women who suffered during times of conflict continues in the aftermath of war, not only because of the enormous psychological and emotional trauma that has marked them, but also the social and cultural stigma attached to their horrendous experiences.
While the exhibition deals with the subject of the victimization and trampling of non-combatant human rights in conflict-ridden areas, it will afford a greater focus on WWII Asia and ‘comfort women.’ The term “comfort women” or Ianfu, is a Japanese euphemism coined by the military to refer to women they trafficked, beguiled, imprisoned, and forced into sexual service to relieve their soldiers' fears and desires. This was one of the most horrific cases of violation against women and girls’ rights in modern history. WWII and Nazi atrocities have been the subject of many books and exhibitions as have Stalin’s massive pogroms. Yet, the topic of sexual appropriation by soldiers during times of conflict has been somewhat eclipsed most likely due to the social taboo attached to victims still living.
The participating artists examine, explore, and highlight the issue of collateral damage as a consequences of war crime and traumatization these people. They include Jan Banning, Steve Cavallo, Mona Higuchi, Su Kwak, Chang-Jin Lee, Despo Magoni, Despina Meimaroglou, Yong Soon Min, Min Sun Oh, Frank van Osch, Junghwa Paik, Jin Powel, Lydia Venieri. The works of this exhibition are meant to showcase the responses of contemporary artists to the plight of non-combatants especially women, in the Asian arena, focusing on their suffering, and at times showing their search for reconciliation and restoration. These internationally and artistically diverse artists demonstrate their engagement with past history while attempting to provide a new perspective toward atrocities perpetrated on women and young people while offering hope for the future.
Curated by Dr. Jungsil Lee & Dr. Thalia Vrachopoulos
This exhibition celebrates women and their varied roles as seen in the works of global artists. From the beginning of time and seen in mother religions, and different ethnic mythologies woman was sought out as nurturer, shaman, and goddess. In matrilineal societies, descent has been passed down through the mother as evidenced in Egypt, Sri Lanka, Northwest India, in the Mosuo people of China, the Basques of Spain and France, and in Judaism. In Catal Huyuk, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia we came across her as the mother goddess Astarte, also known as Ishtar or Inanna. In Minoan culture the female was worshipped together with the bull god and their sanctuaries were situated between two mountains meant to act as corollary to both male and female sexual anatomies. Throughout myth and history the female has held many roles attaining different names in her many societal roles seen in Persephone the daughter of Demeter, as beloved in Euridice, as Penelope Odysseus’ faithful wife, as lover in Venus, and even as warrior in Athena. As the Oceanic Goddess Jugumishanta she created the earth with Moro-Funa, as Ala of the Ibo people in Nigeria she is goddess of fertility and in general all things. In the Arab world pre-Islam she was known as Allat who represented the earth and its fruit.
Despite their glorious past, today some women are still under-appreciated, shunted and/or underpaid in a primarily ‘masculinist’ business world or by society in general. Sometimes they are even criticized for working outside their homes when according to some, they should be home taking care of their young. So that, it is more important than ever to acknowledge the complexity of women’s roles and contributions in the everyday, but also to honor them in works of art.
The artists of this exhibition depict the qualities of female strength, dedication, tirelessness, beauty, and flexibility but also their vulnerability, anguish and delicacy. Moreover, they depict their psychological multidimensionality as well as being critical when necessary in their portrayals. Overall, this show is meant to acknowledge women and their spirit while exploring issues such as equity in the workplace, and at home.
Vangelis Rinas’ life pursuit has been predominantly the female subject. In his anxiety to portray freedom in human endeavor he uses a photorealist approach in order to better explore the mystery and ambiguity of his female sitters. He has “the feeling that man’s ultimate possession freedom, is at risk” thus he paints woman as the hope of renewal in humanity. Frandy Jean depicts the problematic existence and social issues of Haitian women and children in the hopes of awakening her viewers to their plight. The sitter’s feelings are exposed during moments of pain as seen in the crying woman inspired by events such as the 2010 earthquake when many lives were lost. Haiti’s empathy is evident in her portrayal of women who although experiencing pain, nevertheless demonstrate an underlying endurance and flexibility that goes back to time immemorial. In her paintings Lena Morfogeni undertakes a journey through a socio-cultural approach while analyzing her production to engage the viewer in a critical dialogue. In her paintings whether the women are young, or old, shown screaming or happy, they are emotional creatures. Morfogeni explores the rich complexity of a feminine psychological world in canvasses that never fail to impress their viewer in her chosen métier as well as in their powerful expression. Dongyeoun Lee utilizes traditional methods such as hand ground paints from natural materials, on hand made paper called Hanji, in hanging scroll formats to depict Korean women in ethnic costumes. She does this not to reinforce their historical roles but to break away from them for she adds some contemporaneous elements such as a Walkman or earphones. Instead of cooking or cleaning her women dance, sing and in general behave unlike traditional Confucian entities.
Helene Pavlopoulou’s large formatted paintings are centered on women within backgrounds of multi-layered commentaries. Her style although based on Renaissance precedents because of its anthropocentric focus, even contains some Byzantine characteristics like gold grounds. However, rather than painting the acerbic, controlled characters of the past, Pavlopoulou affords them an air of independence, and respect. As seen in his painting Lost Innocence, George Pol. Ioannides engages us with aspects of female oppression, exploitation and inequity. In his young female subjects these elements are symbolized by the blood dripping above their heads that imply suffering. The cherubic Renaissance-like little girls appear at odds with such violence as the drop of blood signals which makes the work even more powerful not only in its shocking quality but also in its directness.
Aside from the painters mentioned above, the photographs of the following three artists stand as living portraits of women and their complexity. In his photographs, Orestes Kourakis comments on his sitters’ private moments while simultaneously showing their public demeanor through the use of mirrors. Kouraki’s women wear clown outfits and sit at the makeup mirror painting their faces as if readying for a performance, while their reflected images show their true feelings— anger or sadness. He recognizes these women as people with multiple responsibilities and roles that sometimes conflict with their innermost feelings. Frank Gimpaya also seems to be examining women’s private moments for he portrays his sitters with mirrored glasses or radically crops his photographs to show only parts of their bodies. This photographer’s approach is reverent for when he depicts women they are strong, independent, and sexy all at once. Jason River in this series tries to capture women’s feelings as expressed by the movement in their hands and most importantly, their connection with others. Consequently in Mal and Amy, 2009 a young African-American woman with linked hands under her chin beams at us. However, we are problematized in reading this image when faced with two hands whose color doesn’t match. And in Lisa and Carlos, 2010 the white model is hugging herself but the hand is black and moreover, appears to be a man’s implying a romantic relationship. River impacts us with the idea of connection through his use of a variety of various ethnicities coming together in the body of a woman. His approach is successful for what better way to show unity than an embrace, or a link?
These artists comprised of painters and photographers, have shown us only a few aspects of female character but there are countless more complexities that we could never hope to show in one exhibit or indeed even a thousand. However, the artworks have been grouped in this show to pay homage to the female spirit of indomitability, spiritual strength, and creativity.
Van Doren Waxter is pleased to announce Space Sisters, an exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Alan Shields, on view from September 14 through October 28, 2016. The exhibition will focus on a selection of pieces from the 70s, presenting examples of Shields’ most bombastic work along with his quietest, highlighting a period in Shields’ career when he was receiving international recognition.
Emblematic of the freewheeling ethos of the period, Shields’ semiotic style includes spirals, mazes, pyramids, mandalas, anthropomorphic and natural forms. Shields’ command of color and form epitomize the American Post-Minimalist movement, seen in the large-scale, highly adorned multi-media painting, Space Sisters, 1972-74, an ecstatic example of the artist’s exploration of materiality, which employs acrylic, cotton thread, beads and mop heads on linen.
By contrast, the less ebullient large-scale painting, Jello Apples, shows the artist’s restraint. Dominated by what appears to be black ground, but what is actually several mottled colors blooming through a dark field, the painting is punctuated with geometric stitching and a horizon of painted and dyed fabric circles sewn on to create curvilinear forms. This subtlety is echoed in the simplistic beauty of the “Brown Box Set” series (1974-75), which, along with his drawings on paper towels, are Shields at his most pared down—no ornamentation, only watercolor, paint and pencil. Immediate and personal in scale, these smaller works can be seen as ethereal impressions—keys to the artist’s larger works and his career-long exploration of unconventional materials and varied forms.
Born in Kansas and raised on his family’s farm, Alan Shields approached a growing interest in Post-Minimalism—a movement co-opted by installation and land artists like Richard Serra and Robert Smithson—with a synthesis of material assemblages that fused the lingering hippiedom of the 60s, folk motifs, and non-Western imagery with the techniques of Color Field painting and the fluid gesture of Abstract Expressionism into a thoroughly unique and singular aesthetic.
Governed primarily by his interests, Shields engaged in a diverse practice, leaving behind a body of work that includes sculptures, paintings, prints, works on paper and wearable work, among other experiments with handmade paper, string, cotton pulp, steel and stop-motion animation. Insofar as he adopted a signature style, it might be his complete rejection of stretched canvas in favor of a less precious, more accessible art.
Shields’ legacy continues to reverberate amongst significant contemporary artists in conversation with his approach to craft and the unframed object: Jim Lambie’s sculptural assemblages; Polly Apfelbaum’s chromatic “carpets;” Jessica Stockholder’s interactive installations which co-opt the floors and walls—the list of those who sample Shields’ interest in remaining uncircumscribed by standards or popular movement is long, and stands to grow longer.