"Hunkertime" by Harmony Hammond, on view for 1 year at NMWA!

The Curatorial Department at the National Museum of Women in the Arts is thrilled to unveil the colossal sculpture Hunkertime by New Mexico artist Harmony Hammond.  Spanning over 23 feet in NMWA’s recently opened 3rd floor sculpture gallery, Hunkertime, composed of 9 stocky, ladder-like forms wrapped in thick layers of painted fabric, is a prime example of Hammond’s “wrapped sculptures” of the late 70s and early 80s.  The wrapped structures “hunker” together, leaning on each other in a manner that suggests community and dialogue, which Hammond considers vital to feminist practice.

Harmony Hammond (American, b. 1944), "Hunkertime", 1979-1980; Cloth, wood, acrylic, gesson, latex rubber, rhoplex and metal 83 x 286 in. On loan from Elizabeth A. Sackler.

Harmony Hammond (American, b. 1944), “Hunkertime”, 1979-1980; Cloth, wood, acrylic, gesso, latex rubber, rhoplex and metal 83 x 286 in. On loan from Elizabeth A. Sackler.

A pioneer of the feminist art, Hammond began working in New York in the 1970s when the feminist art movement began to take root. Meeting regularly with a group of women interested in the interconnectedness of gender and art, Hammond began to view artistic medium and processes as vital, meaning-making expressions of gender in art. Hammond and her colleagues discussed how “materials such as fabric and thread, and connective processes referencing the needle arts (stitching, weaving, braiding, knotting, and piecing), previously undervalued and devalued for their associated with women, took on new meanings.” In Hunkertime, the layers of fabric covering the underlying wooden armatures are composed of old rags and clothes collected from her friends. She notes: “It meant that I was literally putting all these women in the work.”

In addition to referencing women’s traditional artistic practices, Hammond’s use of fabric serves as a commentary on the deplorable working conditions of immigrant women employed by the garment industry in Lower Manhattan, where Hammond lived and worked. “Every night the end cuts of bolts of knit fabric were thrown out in dumpsters to be carted away as waste. Using this discarded fabric to ‘make something out of nothing,’ I was able to reference the women working in the sweatshops and myself—a woman and an artist in a capitalist patriarchal culture—with what I called an ‘aesthetic of survival.’”

Hunkertime is generously on loan to NMWA for one year from historian and arts activist Dr. Elizabeth A. Sackler, founder of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The Sackler Center is the permanent home of “The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago, honoring women’s contributions in all fields throughout history. Lectures and panel discussions about feminist art, theory and activism take place in the Center’s Forum, and featured exhibitions are held in its Feminist Art and Herstory galleries.

About the author: Raphael Sikorra is curatorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Hollis Sigler (1948-2001)

Stepping Outside

Stepping Outside of Her Life, 1996. Lithograph on paper, 17 x 23 in. Gift of the artist.

“The thing is, by dealing in content, it doesn’t restrict you to any style. It frees you.” – 1994 interview

Sigler in 1983.

Sigler in 1983.

The work of Hollis Sigler is to me, first and foremost, vibrant. Her paintings overflow with life, and each work feels intimate and personal as a diary page. But in their Technicolor exuberance there is a bitter-sweetness. Sigler emphasized content over style; at the dawn of her career in the 1970s, she abandoned the academic training from her Art Institute of Chicago MFA in favor of a faux naïf style. Her transition from realism was not a simple change of pace – it was a means to her end of rebellion against the exclusion of women from mainstream recognition in the arts. Art was not, as she said, “just for art’s sake;” there was a purpose to it, and later in her career its purpose for her became even more personal.

Sigler was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985, and during a recurrence of the disease in 1992 it became the focus of her work. She announced publicly that she had cancer during a time when it still carried a stigma: “Up to that point, I had always been very careful to keep the “cause” out of my work. I decided that I now had to incorporate the cause, because as an artist I have an obligation to say something, to be responsible to my community.”

Taking Stock

Taking Stock of Her Situation, 1996. Lithograph on paper, 18 x 23 3/4 in. Gift of the artist.

One of the most distinguishing marks of Sigler’s work is the writing which surrounds and penetrates the compositions. Sometimes the text is personal and reflective, and other times it is historical and statistical. But why was it there at all? “We are a society that is geared towards words…My objective is to inform. And I think it counterpoints the visual, because the visual always has to do with emotions. It is a way of putting the cause in the work, and making it very specific, which makes people notice it.”

The spirit of her work is communicative, generous, and open. She wanted people to be able to take away meaning from her paintings, whether it was feminism or the reality of dealing with cancer. Her candid, sincere style makes this passing of knowledge all the more enjoyable and understandable for her viewers.

RibbonOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more, you can visit NBCAM, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, or the American Cancer Society.

About the Author: Carolanne Bonanno is NMWA’s communications and publishing intern.