Women Artists of the DMV: Malaka Gharib’s “I Was Their American Dream”

DMV Color presents artists’ books, graphic novels, photobooks, and zines by women of African American, Asian American, and Latina heritage with ties to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia—known locally as the DMV. The works on view depict intimacies of family life, legacies of enslavement, dislocation tied to immigration, changes resulting from rampant development, and more. On view in NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center through March 4, 2020.

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A head shot of author/artist Malaka Gharib. She smiles and wears a red button-up short sleeved shirt and has hear hair braided over her left shoulder.

Malaka Gharib photo by Ben de la Cruz

Washington, D.C., resident Malaka Gharib (b. 1986) is an editor at NPR, co-founder of the D.C. Art Book Fair, and zine artist. Her graphic memoir I Was Their American Dream (Clarkson Potter, 2019), chronicles her multicultural upbringing as the daughter of a Filipino Catholic mother and an Egyptian Muslim father. From her multiethnic hometown in suburban Los Angeles to the majority white upstate New York town where she attended college, Gharib constantly negotiated between her Filipino and Egyptian heritage—and the ideals of white America. “What are you?” is a question the artist explores with heartfelt insight and humor in this joyous tribute to her immigrant family.

The intricacies of family life and cultural tensions are major themes throughout DMV Color, and Gharib addresses them with nuance and authenticity. In playful red, white, and blue illustrations, Gharib depicts navigating clashing familial relationships, cultural values, religion, and food. Even within her high school’s diverse cultural pool, Gharib’s own ethnic ambiguity and fascination with white people in popular culture earned her a label of “white-washed” and treatment as a misfit. To be “normal” was to be white, according to teenage Gharib. Eventually, she found her stride as part of a motley, punk-loving, creative crew. She also learned to blend her family’s distinct cultures together, creating an identity all her own. Reading like a conversation with a close friend, this is the story all children of immigrants might have wished they had growing up.

Interior detail from "I Was Their American Dream" which depicts, in cartoon format, the author's Microaggressions Bingo interactive spread.

Interior detail from I Was Their American Dream; Copyright © 2019 by Malaka Gharib; Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

Gharib’s memoir is delightfully designed, featuring interactive elements including a family recipe for the Filipino soup monggo, a cheeky-yet-pointed bingo chart of microaggressions, and a paper doll of the author with various outfits that highlight her code-switching in college. Her simple and unique character designs reject racial caricaturing, reimagining race with a refreshing lens. In one section, Gharib’s renderings of her high school classmates’ yearbook pictures represent the diversity of her school without relying on stereotypical depictions. The artist flatly rejects monolithic narratives and depictions of immigrants and their families.

In an interview with the Asian Journal, Gharib explained how the negative, one-dimensional, anti-immigrant rhetoric of 2016 catalyzed her to write the memoir. “I thought about my dad who liked gardening and loved the movie Forrest Gump. He’s totally harmless. I wanted to correct the narrative that I was seeing.” In I Was Their American Dream, Gharib invites readers on a journey into her colorful world and leaves us with renewed empathy and understanding.

Elizabeth Chung is the fall 2019 Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Judy Chicago—The End: Mortality

The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the newest body of work by iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago, continues the artist’s practice of tackling taboo subjects. In these works, she offers a bold reflection on mortality and the destruction of entire species. Visually striking and emotionally charged, the exhibition comprises more than 35 paintings on black glass and porcelain, as well as two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

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On a black background, a nude female figure painted in cool, translucent colors lays on a multicolored block with her hands folded over her chest. Atop her the sentence "Everyone hopes to die peacefully" is painted in cursive print.

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #1, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint and luster on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

When Judy Chicago (b. 1939) first began her research on the topic of death and its representation in art, the artist was struck by societies that have acknowledged life’s inevitable end with awareness and acceptance. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and many American Indian cultures believed that the spirits of the dead continued on—death was merely a change in existence. The Mexican Día de los Muertos tradition can be traced back to Aztec feasts where family members honored their dead and supported their spiritual journey. The Korowai people of Indonesia speak of themselves as being in the process of dying in everyday conversation. Hyolmo Buddhists in Nepal regard dying “as an intricate art to be learned…to ensure a smooth passage into the next life as well as a successful rebirth.” Chicago embarked on The End as a personal exercise in coming to terms with her own fear of death.

In the “Mortality” section, Chicago explores her own death across 20 black glass panels. The figure in each work has the artist’s shock of bright curls and presents a vivid vision of her eventual demise. Chicago, who says she has always been aware of her own mortality, became even more cognizant after a health scare in 2012. The works in this section are rendered in kiln-fired glass paint, an extremely time-consuming and laborious process, with multiple firings needed to achieve the artist’s desired effect. Chicago chose black glass, which is both strong and fragile, because “it seems a perfect metaphor for life.”

Judy Chicago - Sweet Prospect

Judy Chicago, Sweet Prospect, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - How Will I Die _9 _A_

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #9, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint, Liquid Bright, and oil paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - How Will I Die _7

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #7, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Title Panel Mortality

Judy Chicago, Title Panel: Mortality, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Handwritten text is an integral element in The End. In “Mortality,” Chicago uses writing to both comfort and question. The artist incorporates musings on death from a number of celebrated thinkers including Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Socrates, who once said, “If death is simply the end of our sense, then it is like a long dreamless sleep, and therefore, a sweet prospect.” In startling works that envision possible scenarios surrounding her own death, Chicago asks pointed questions: “Will I die embracing the light?” “Will I die screaming in pain?” Another panel presents synonyms and metaphors for death—demise, release, oblivion, be no more—an exercise in sorting through meaning around this amorphous, unknown, universal experience.

In The End, Chicago intentionally addressed the one subject that most people in Western societies work diligently to avoid: their own impermanence. “As difficult as it was to confront my own mortality, it brought me to a place of acceptance,” Chicago said. “I hope that I will be able to face my end with courage, grace, and humor.”

Women Artists of the Dutch Golden Age: Illuminating the Natural World

Women Artists of the Dutch Golden Age presents paintings and prints by eight successful artists in the Netherlands during the 17th and early 18th centuries—a period of unprecedented economic growth. Works are drawn primarily from NMWA’s collection, with key loans that illuminate the artists’ lives and careers. The exhibition highlights women who excelled as artists, pushing boundaries in art and in life. On view October 11, 2019–January 5, 2020, this presentation features works by Judith Leyster, Maria Sibylla Merian, Clara Peeters, Rachel Ruysch, and more.

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Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 1 (from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, second edition), 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

The lives and works of women artists of the Dutch Golden Age reveal connections between artists, patrons, and the subject matter of the natural world. The Dutch took pleasure in the wonders of nature—from flowers to food—and this is evident in the profusion of still-life paintings executed during the era.

The field of botany took root in the Netherlands, where one of the oldest botanical gardens, the Hortus Botanicus (est. 1638), still exists in Amsterdam. Private citizens also tried growing and maintaining the new species of plants that arrived via the Dutch East and West India Companies. One of these individuals was Agnes Block (1629–1704), a wealthy, educated collector of plants and art. Block commissioned artists, including Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717), Alida Withoos (ca. 1661–1730), and Maria Moninckx (ca. 1676–1757), to document her gardens in paint and pencil. In 1687, Block commissioned Withoos to paint one of her prize plants: the first successfully grown pineapple in Europe. While Withoos’s painting does not survive, Merian’s two illustrations of it in her publication Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphoses in Surinam do. Merian based the images on observations of plants and insects during her travels to the Dutch colony of Suriname in South America.

Artists in Bloom

The greatest floral still-life painter of the Golden Age was Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750), whose compositions burst with movement and color. She achieved such authenticity because of her experience looking closely at organisms. Her father, Frederik Ruysch, was professor of botany at the Hortus Botanicus, as well as a surgeon, obstetrician, and collector. Art historian Maryanne Berardi notes that while surrounded by these natural wonders, Ruysch honed her observational power and artistic skill.

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Rachel Ruysch, Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge, ca. late 1680s; Oil on canvas, 42 1/2 x 33 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

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Clara Peeters, A Still Life of Lilies, Roses, Iris, Pansies, Columbine, Love-in-a-Mist, Larkspur and Other Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Table Top, Flanked by a Rose and a Carnation, 1610; Oil on wood panel, 19 1/2 x 13 1/4 x 2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

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Alida Withoos, Still Life with Irises, Morning Glory, Fox Gloves, a Red Lily and Other Flowers on a Forest Floor, ca. 1700; Oil on canvas, 27 1/4 x 22 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Clara Peeters (1594–after 1657), a pioneer of still-life painting, was the only Flemish woman known to have specialized in the field as early as the first decade of the 17th century. When Peeters painted her largest and most exuberant floral work, A Still Life of Lilies, Roses, Iris, Pansies… (ca. 1610), the genre was still relatively new.

Withoos excelled in forest still lifes, or bosstilleven. Rather than depicting flowers in a vase, she anchored them to the forest floor, indicated by the tufts of sprouting grass. The grouping of flowers is pure artistic invention, however—bouquets like this do not grow naturally.

These artists flourished while creating authentic, imaginative renderings of the ephemeral natural world.

—Adapted from Virginia Treanor, “Women Artists of the Dutch Golden Age,” Women in the Arts magazine, Fall 2019

Now Open: DMV Color

Elizabeth Catlett, Walking Blindly, 1992; Lithograph on paper, 22 3/4 x 18 3/4 in.; NMWA, purchased with funds donated in memory of Florence Davis by her family, friends, and the Women’s Committee of the NMWA

Washington, D.C., and its surroundings have long been home to a rich community of artists of color, including those born and raised here and others who built connections to the region—some while attending area art schools and universities, or while living here temporarily with military families. DMV Color, now on view in NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC), features an eclectic assortment of contemporary works by women of African American, Asian American, and Latina heritage with ties to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia—known locally as the DMV. The artists’ books, graphic novels, photobooks, and zines on view depict intimacies of family life, legacies of enslavement, dislocation tied to immigration, changes resulting from rampant development, and other topics that illustrate facets of life in the DMV.

In a recent interview with Sasha-Ann Simons of the Kojo Nnamdi Show, LRC Director Lynora Williams noted the rich artistic exchange occurring in the region. “This is a hardworking region, and no one works harder than women of color,” she said. “It affects their ability to promote their art. For NMWA to have the honor of sharing the art of these women is very exciting.”

Global Heritages

Washington, D.C., and its extended surroundings have long welcomed artists of African, Asian, Native, and Latinx heritage. This history stretches from the 1700s and earlier, to the influx of formerly enslaved African Americans who flocked here during the Civil War and Reconstruction. More recently, immigrants from East, West, Central, and Southern Africa; Central and South America; Central Asia; the Middle East; Southeast Asia; and other regions have settled in the DMV—many fleeing armed conflicts, repressive governments, or economic crises. Women of diverse heritages and DMV experiences, often united by a desire to be freed of restrictive social norms, have learned from and inspired one another in their creative endeavors.

Featured Artists

The 19 artists in DMV Color convey their identities in a wide variety of formats. Signifiers such as food, the admonitions of grandmothers, textiles, and childhood memories can be found across the boundaries of culture and medium. Featured artists and works include:

Robin Ha’s Cook Korean! (2016), graphic novel and cookbook

Robin Ha, Cook Korean!, 2016—Ha moved to the U.S. from Korea at 14. Her graphic novel and cookbook contains recipes, colorful illustrations, and information about the basic ingredients found in a Korean kitchen.

Elizabeth Catlett, Walking Blindly, 1992—Raised in Washington, D.C., Catlett studied at Howard University under artist Loïs Mailou Jones, whose children’s book illustrations are also included in this exhibition. Catlett split her time between New York City and Mexico City, primarily creating prints and sculptures. Her images explore themes of maternity and childhood as well as race, politics, violence, and voice.

Sabrina Barekzai, Afghan Superstitions, Vol. 2, 2016—Incorporating stories that the author heard as a child from friends and family, Barekzai’s zine intersperses Afghan superstitions with photos of Barekzai’s family from the 1980s. Northern Virginia’s Afghan community is believed to be the second largest in the United States.

Visit DMV Color in person to see these works through March 4, 2020.

Power in My Hand: Five Women Artists in Conversation with Emily Dickinson

Since the discovery of almost 1,800 poems after her death in 1886, readers and artists alike have studied, adopted, and celebrated the work of Emily Dickinson. As noted by poet and essayist Adrienne Rich, Dickinson’s work remains relevant in its focus on the feminine and the interior—in the literal sense of the domestic realm and, metaphorically, in the expression of the inner self. Five works in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center’s exhibition Power in My Hand: Women Poets, Women Artists, and Social Change testify to the enduring legacy of Dickinson’s work.

Sue Huggins Leopard, Past Surmise: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson, 2008; Multimedia, 2 x 19 1/2 in. (prints); box: 14 x 22 x 2 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Sue Huggins Leopard

In Emily Dickinson, a preparatory drawing for a place setting in her renowned installation The Dinner Party (1977), Judy Chicago (b. 1939) emphasized the link between sexuality, empowerment, and liberation using materials and techniques that would have been familiar to Dickinson and her Victorian milieu. Ribbon work references Victorian sewing techniques, while lace simultaneously embodies reticent femininity and oppression, a seemingly delicate fabric hardened and immobile in porcelain.

A tactile exploration of Dickinson’s work continues in the photography of Annie Leibovitz (b. 1949). The artist photographed a white dress of Dickinson’s against a sharp, dark background. This “portrait” of Dickinson opened Leibovitz’s book Pilgrimage, an exploration of the spaces and belongings of individuals she admires. The photograph evokes the same traditional femininity depicted by Chicago, but here the viewer must consider the absent body of the poet.

The delicate collages of multidisciplinary artist Lesley Dill (b. 1950) respond to Dickinson’s work by incorporating the poet’s text within them. In The Poetic Body—Gloves, Ears, Eyes (1992), Dill depicts the visceral experience of language, giving it an interpreted shape made from Japanese silk tissue paper, accented by letterpress, and structured into collage. Dill’s collage is exhibited alongside a group of works that reflect on spirituality, faith, and the nature of the psyche.

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Judy Chicago, Emily Dickinson (preparatory drawing for The Dinner Party), 1977; Mixed media on paper, 23 1/8 x 35 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition fund; © 1977 Judy Chicago; Image by Google

Dickinson Dress

Annie Leibovitz, photograph of Emily Dickinson’s only surviving dress, from Pilgrimage; Photo by Emily Moore, courtesy of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center

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Lesley Dill, The Poetic Body—Gloves, Ears, Eyes, 1992; Lithograph with letterpress and collage on paper, 13 1/8 x 18 1/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition Fund; © Lesley Dill

Herxheimer-Your Candle

Sophie Herxheimer, poems by Emily Dickinson, Your Candle Accompanies the Sun: My Homage to Emily Dickinson, 2017; Artist's book by Henningham Family Press; Photo by Jennifer Page

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Sue Huggins Leopard, Past Surmise: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson, 2008; Multimedia, 2 x 19 1/2 in. (prints); box: 14 x 22 x 2 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Sue Huggins Leopard

Reframing Dickinson’s cloistered life, artist Sophie Herxheimer explored the idea that one can be fixed in space physically, but mobile through imagination and intellect. Her work Your Candle Accompanies the Sun: My Homage to Emily Dickinson (2017) was created during a time in her own life when she was “stuck indoors, quite anxious, unable to do much.” Through collages that include Dickinson’s work, Herxheimer’s own poetry, and images cut from a 1930’s book of Swiss tourist photos, the piece demonstrates the creative potency of inspiration and relative isolation.

Printmaker and book artist Sue Huggins Leopard developed an interest in writers and their work, and she began to integrate poetry into her own print projects. She uses the technical process of bookmaking as a way to picture the invisible and embody emotions. Her work Past Surmise: Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson (2008) explores and communes with Dickinson’s delight in the “small miracles of nature and being.”

In describing her creative process, Dickinson once wrote, “I work to drive the awe away, yet awe impels the work.” In their visual homages to Dickinson, these five artists keep the spirit of Dickinson—and her awe—alive.

—Emily Moore is the archival assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Landscape of Change: Janaina Tschäpe’s “100 Little Deaths”

Live Dangerously exhibits all one hundred photographs in Janaina Tschäpe’s 100 Little Deaths together for the first time. Tschäpe began the project in 1996 as an exploration of landscape, transmutation, and death. Each self-portrait depicts the artist sprawled face down in different environments around the world, often with limbs akimbo. Tschäpe’s body decorates a range of landscapes including urban meccas, ancient ruins, manmade interiors, woodlands, and bodies of water.

At face value, the series functions as the artist’s visual travel diary from 1996–2002. Tschäpe felt that each place she visited captured pieces of her, and she wanted to embody that emotion in her photography. Her prostrate form represents the powerful feeling of leaving a part of yourself behind somewhere. “It was the idea of me dying, or living a little history that was very short in every place,” Tschäpe said. Her photos vacillate between comedy and tragedy, making the series both surreal and theatrical.

A woman lies face down in front of the towering Moai statues on Easter Island off the coast of Chile.

Janaina Tschäpe, Moais, from 100 Little Deaths, 2002; Chromogenic color print; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Janaina Tschäpe; Image courtesy of Janaina Tschäpe studio

Changing Landscapes

Tschäpe’s horizontal body becomes a part of the landscape as each location molds and changes her. Each photo is “…related to either new places I was living, or new places I was going to…I was really a landscape,” the artist has said. In Moais (2002), the towering Moai statues dwarf Tschäpe’s body. The neutral tones of her clothing blend into the rock and shadows; only the bright white of her shirt draws the eye to her presence. Tschäpe merges into the scene and loses herself to the massive statues before her in one of the most remote places in the world.

A woman lies face down in a leaf-covered path in the woods. Next to the woman is a cleared space where her body was, too.

Janaina Tschäpe, Frick Park, from 100 Little Deaths, 2000; Chromogenic color print; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Janaina Tschäpe; Image courtesy of Janaina Tschäpe studio

The transformation is reciprocal. Tschäpe constructs and changes the landscapes with her presence, just as these places change her. Frick Park (2000) presents the artist lying in fallen leaves on a wooded path. She has cleared away the fallen leaves next to her in the shape of her body. This outline doubles her presence and emphasizes her effect on the landscape. The leaves will never occupy that exact space again. Tschäpe forever alters the location—if only slightly—by being there.

Ocean Goddess

Many of Tschäpe’s “little deaths” take place in or near water, which may be a way for the artist to pay homage to her name and its connection to water. Tschäpe’s first name, Janaina, is derived from the name of an Afro-Brazilian sea goddess of the Candomblé religion. In Fiji (2002), Tschäpe lays perpendicular to the shoreline of a rocky beach. Her blue pants echo the blue of the water. The still line of her body directs the viewer’s eye to the ocean and the distant mountains that appear on the horizon.

A woman lies face down on a rocky coast with a yellow purse next to her. In the distance, on the sea's horizon, are mountains.

Janaina Tschäpe, Fiji, from 100 Little Deaths, 2002; Chromogenic color print; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Janaina Tschäpe; Image courtesy of Janaina Tschäpe studio

Tschäpe’s “little deaths” represent the transmutation that occurs during her travels. Her prone figure negates her identity. This allows the artist to become a part of the landscape and represents the death of her old identity. The figure is not Tschäpe; it is her old self, left behind. Her new self continues on to her next location and next little death.

—Hannah Southern is the fall 2019 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Opening this Week: Women Artists of the Dutch Golden Age

Women Artists of the Dutch Golden Age presents paintings and prints by eight successful artists in the Netherlands during the 17th and early 18th centuries—a period of unprecedented economic growth. Works are drawn primarily from NMWA’s collection, with key loans that illuminate the artists’ lives and careers. The exhibition highlights women who excelled as artists in this era, pushing boundaries in art and in life. On view October 11, 2019–January 5, 2020, this presentation features works by Judith Leyster, Maria Sibylla Merian, Clara Peeters, Rachel Ruysch, and more.

A dark still life oil painting that shows a bowl of dead fish and a plate of shrimp and clams, along with a cat with his paws on one of the dead fish.

Clara Peeters, Still Life of Fish and Cat, after 1620; Oil on panel, 13 1/2 x 18 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

The Netherlands experienced unprecedented economic growth from the late 16th century through the first quarter of the 18th century. A rising middle class of wealthy merchants fueled demand for paintings and prints of still-lifes, portraits, and scenes of everyday life. By some estimates, there was one painter for every 2,000–3,000 inhabitants, a ratio exceeding that of Italy during the same period. While this era has been widely documented and studied, the many women artists who were part of this thriving scene are rarely included in museum exhibitions.

In fact, to date, there has never been an exhibition devoted to the Dutch and Flemish women artists of the Golden Age. This is remarkable given the sheer scale of artistic production in the Netherlands during this period. Women artists thrived in this environment. Like those elsewhere in Europe, many Dutch and Flemish women were born into families of artists and received their training from fathers or brothers. However, some took the more traditionally “masculine” route of apprenticing with a recognized master and joining artistic guilds. Considering a group of these women together offers an opportunity to upend common assumptions and uncover surprising connections.

An engraved self portrait in black and white of Anna Maria van Schurman, she wears typical dress of the 1600s and looks to the left.

Anna Maria van Schurman, Self-Portrait, 1640; Engraving on paper, 8 1/2 x 6 3/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Featured artists include:

Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750), one of the most successful artists of this period, who is regarded as the greatest floral still-life painter of the Golden Age. Her prestigious career lasted a remarkable 70 years, and she sold work to an international circle of patrons.

Judith Leyster (1609–1660), one of the first women admitted to the painter’s guild in Haarlem, where she also took on her own students. A recently rediscovered self-portrait by Leyster is a highlight of the exhibition—it is on public view in the U.S. for the first time.

Clara Peeters (1594–1657?), a pioneer of still-life painting and the only Flemish woman known to have specialized in the genre as early as the first decade of the 17th century. Peeters was the artist who inspired NMWA founder Wilhelmina Cole Holladay to begin collecting work by women artists.

Considered individually, the stories of the women represented in this exhibition reveal that there was not just one path to becoming an artist, nor was there only one model for success. Through a wider view encompassing each artist’s individual struggles and triumphs, a clearer and more nuanced picture of women artists during the Dutch Golden Age comes into focus.

Judy Chicago—The End: Stages of Dying

The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the newest body of work by iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago, continues the artist’s practice of tackling taboo subjects. In these works, she offers a bold reflection on mortality and the destruction of entire species. Visually striking and emotionally charged, the exhibition comprises more than 35 paintings on black glass and porcelain, as well as two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

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“Death is still a fearful, frightening happening and the fear of death is a universal fear.”—Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 3/6: Anger, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

In 1969, Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (b. 1926) published On Death and Dying, a groundbreaking book in which she first proposed the five stages of grief—a common emotional cycle for those who have lost a loved one or who are facing their own mortality. This model, which includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, has become a prominent framework for humans to understand our complicated and multifaceted response to loss. Kübler-Ross did not arrive easily at her pioneering work. Her father was strictly opposed to her studying medicine, encouraging her instead to become a secretary or maid. And in 1958, she was disqualified from a residency in pediatrics because she was pregnant—though this led her to accept one in psychiatry.

Continuing her commitment to centering women in history, as she did in The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago (b. 1939) draws on Kübler-Ross’s work for “Stages of Dying,” the first section of The End. Chicago represents these stages of grief and simultaneously reckons with her own mortality.

Judy Chicago - Stages of Dying 1 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 1/6, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint, pen work, and luster on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Denial 2 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 2/6: Denial, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Anger 3 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 3/6: Anger, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Bargaining 4 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 4/6: Bargaining, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Depression 5 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 5/6: Depression, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Acceptance 6 of 6_blog

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 6/6: Acceptance, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 16 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

The main figure in “Stages of Dying” is a nude older woman who shares facial characteristics with Chicago. However, in choosing to portray the woman without hair, Chicago removes one of her own most recognizable traits—her short, vibrantly hued curls. The baldness of the figure renders it somewhat androgynous and, according to Chicago, makes it an archetypal “everywoman,” a universal figure to whom death will eventually come. Chicago presents an aged body that is far less prevalent than the idealized inventions of (mostly) male artists over the centuries. In lieu of a youthful and supple form, the artist gives us a wiry and wrinkled protagonist who refutes the trappings of stereotypical femininity.

The “everywoman” radiates with colored auras in each scene. In “Anger” the figure is charged with a deep red border that travels along her arms, torso, and neck. In “Depression” the figure emanates a melancholy teal. “Acceptance” is a vibrant and revelatory conclusion: the figure looks skyward and glows in bright yellow. Kübler-Ross built her theory through extensive interviews and research, and Chicago adds a visual dimension to this framework with her startling images and expressive colors.

Although Kübler-Ross understood the fear of death as universal, she conceived of the stages of grief as a process for healing. Chicago’s work process may have echoed that model. As the artist says, “As difficult as it was to confront my own mortality, it brought me to a place of acceptance.”

Opening This Week: Live Dangerously

Live Dangerously reveals the bold and dynamic ways in which female bodies inhabit and activate the natural world. Twelve groundbreaking photographers, including Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Kirsten Justesen, Xaviera Simmons, Janaina Tschäpe, and Rania Matar, use humor, drama, ambiguity, and innovative storytelling to illuminate the landscape as means of self-empowerment and personal expression. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

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Traditionally, representations of female figures in art history have shown women passively linked to the landscape through gendered associations of nature, eroticism, and fertility. In contrast, Live Dangerously presents fierce, dreamy, and witty images of women presiding over the landscape—all through the lens of the female gaze. From the groundbreaking work of Ana Mendieta to the first-ever installation of all 100 large-scale photographs in Janaina Tschäpe’s 100 Little Deaths (1996–2002), the artists illuminate the planet’s surface as a stunning stage for human drama. Learn about a sampling of the works presented in the exhibition:

Xaviera Simmons, One Day and Back Then (Standing), 2007; Chromira c-print, 30 x 40 in.; Collection of Darryl Atwell; © Xaviera Simmons, Courtesy David Castillo Gallery

On Stage

In Live Dangerously, the earth is dynamic stage that challenges us to view ourselves and our environments in new ways. Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974) uses her wide-ranging work to address questions of marginalized bodies in landscapes, particularly regarding womanhood and blackness in the United States. In One Day and Back Then (Standing) (2007), a self-portrait in which she gazes directly out at the viewer, Simmons appears tucked into a thicket of reeds, in a dark trench coat, crowned by a curly Afro and dressed in blackface. The image forces the viewer to confront complicated questions, such as the identity and intentions of the subject, and the meaning of blackface in this context. Simmons further reflects on the current social status of both black and white Americans: “How might our entire history have been different had America fulfilled its emancipatory promises to its freed slaves and their descendants instead of commemorating its defeated Confederate planters?”

In Her Element

Artists in Live Dangerously claim their natural environments. Rather than seeming daunted by these extreme landscapes, figures climb, run, and swim through varied terrain, freely and boldly embracing the sublime elements of nature. In her “Ice Pedestal” series (2000, printed 2015), Danish artist Kirsten Justesen (b. 1943) positions herself atop blocks of ice wearing only rubber boots and gloves, letting the ice blocks melt and then refreezing the puddles. Her photographs record this repetitive process of transition from solid to liquid to solid, capturing the idea of mutability and impermanence of the world.

Rania Matar, Yara, Cairo, Egypt, from the series “SHE,” 2019; Archival pigment print, 44 x 37 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Robert Klein Gallery; © Rania Matar

Mischief-Makers

Female bodies activate the land throughout Live Dangerously. At times, they appear to be in precarious circumstances, and in others, they intentionally rebel and disrupt societal expectations of genteel, compliant women. In her “SHE” series (2016–ongoing), Rania Matar (b. 1964) photographs young women in lush landscapes in the United States and the Middle East to portray their individual beauty through their relationships with their environments. Matar’s model in Yara, Cairo, Egypt (2019) stands partially obscured in the crevices of a banyan tree, her limbs echoing the trunk’s vertical shoots to create an uncanny air of mystery.

The works in Live Dangerously employ humor, performance, ambiguity, and inventive storytelling to reveal the ways in which female bodies inhabit, and animate, their natural surroundings. The photographers in this exhibition shed new light on the Earth’s surfaces and elements as catalysts for self-expression.

Opening This Week: Judy Chicago—The End

The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the newest body of work by iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago, continues the artist’s practice of tackling taboo subjects. In these works, she offers a bold reflection on mortality and the destruction of entire species. Visually striking and emotionally charged, the exhibition comprises more than 35 paintings on black glass and porcelain and two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

Judy Chicago, In the Shadow of Death, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 12 x 9 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

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Over the course of her long career, Judy Chicago’s artistic subject matter has included sex, birth, masculinity, the perversion of power, and violence. Now she addresses perhaps the last taboo: death. Our society holds an undeniable discomfort around aging and death, and in The End, Chicago tackles the subjects head on, as both a universal human experience and a personal rumination. In a culture that prizes youth and beauty—particularly for women—Chicago’s stark images of aged bodies are an antidote. She also grapples with the mortality of entire ecosystems that have been irreparably damaged by the action, or inaction, of humans. With The End, Chicago continues her history of merging the personal and political with luminous colors, technical mastery, and uncomfortable subjects.

“In many ways, this series is the culmination of 50 years of studio practice, a practice that has taken me on a journey of discovery through many different topics expressed through a wide range of techniques,” said Chicago. “In a world in which women’s cultural production continues to be undervalued, discounted, or marginalized, I am pleased to premier this work for the first time at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the only museum in the world dedicated to ensuring that women’s art is preserved.”

The series is divided into three distinct sections, “Stages of Dying,” “Mortality,” and “Extinction.” In the first, viewers are presented with an older female “everywoman” who viscerally experiences psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. In “Mortality,” Chicago envisions different scenarios that may play out in her own inevitable death. And in “Extinction,” Chicago illustrates the harm that humans have brought to groups of animals and plants that are now threatened with extinction—from elephants killed for their tusks to trees flayed of their bark.

Judy Chicago - Title Panel The End A Meditation on Death and Extinction

Judy Chicago, Title Panel: The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint, pen work, and luster on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Depression 5 of 6

Judy Chicago, Stages of Dying 5/6: Depression, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; China paint on porcelain, 12 x 16 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - How Will I Die #7

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #7, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Smothered

Judy Chicago, Smothered, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2016; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 12 x 18 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Extinction detail polar bear

Judy Chicago, Extinction Relief (detail), from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2018; Patinated bronze, 53 1/2 x 30 1/2 x 14 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

While Chicago is best known for The Dinner Party (1974), the renowned mixed-media installation that celebrates the legacies of women throughout history, The End also shares connections with her many other prescient bodies of work. Chicago has built her career on pushing boundaries, and The End is no less audacious than her earlier projects.