On June 23, NMWA’s second floor will come alive with brilliant contemporary sculpture and photo-based art by 16 women artists in the summer exhibition Revival. The show explores the featured artists’ representations of the body, the child, and other creatures through a remarkable range of media, scale, and techniques.
Hanging sculptures, video projections, and large-scale photographs create immersive, mesmeric environments while smaller meticulous works draw the viewer close, beckoning toward sensations that spark memory and emotion. Each artist connects to the unconscious through highly allusive depictions of human and other animal bodies. The artists in Revival employ a wide range of materials in their works. Working with hair, yarn, velvet, wax, marble, found objects, taxidermied birds, and lens-based media, to name a few, these artists explore materiality in meaningful and impactful ways.
In the triptych from the series Bullets Revisited #3 (2012), Lalla Essaydi portrays a reclining woman with her face turned toward the viewer, confronting the historical Orientalism of Western artists, particularly sexualized depictions of women. Upon a closer look, the viewer will notice that the figure’s body is covered in henna calligraphy, challenging the tradition of calligraphy as a male-dominated art form. The woman’s dress and surroundings are elaborately decorated with silver and gold bullet casings. Essaydi explains her use of bullet casings as a commentary on violence against women in a new post-revolutionary era following the Arab Spring.
In Cotton to Hair (2012), Sonya Clark juxtaposes a boll of cotton with human hair to allude to the history of slavery in the U.S., acknowledging cotton as a key contributor to U.S. trade and wealth in the early 1800s. Clark combines cotton with a tuft of dark human hair, referencing African American slaves who worked in the fields to create this wealth.
The exhibition features powerful works by Louise Bourgeois, Petah Coyne, Alison Saar, Joana Vasconcelos, Patricia Piccinini, alongside other artists featured in NMWA’s collection. Revival illuminates women who regenerate sculpture and photo-based art to profound expressive effect. A survey of the museum’s collection in its 30th year inspired this exhibition, which is enriched by important loans from public and private collections as well as artists’ studios.
Visit the museum and see Revival, on view from June 23 to September 10, 2017.
—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.