Director’s Desk: Roots to Routes

At the National Museum of Women in the Arts, we regularly rotate our collection to spark new thematic connections. This is an essential part of our curatorial philosophy. In a six-post series, I will explore the themes featured in our most recent collection installation. Read about our “Family Matters,” “Rebels with a Cause,” “Space Explorers” and “The Great Outdoors” themes, and stay tuned for more.

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) addresses topics of exile and nostalgia in her multimedia works. In On Guard (1998), Neshat photographs the hands of a woman clasping a microphone. Out of frame, the woman wears a chador, an enveloping black garment worn by some Iranian women to cover their heads and bodies in public. Neshat photographed the woman’s exposed hands and inscribed Farsi poetry directly onto the image, forming a veil-like screen over her subject’s skin.

Shirin Neshat, On Guard from the series “Turbulent,” 1996; Gelatin silver print with ink, 11 x 14 in.; NMWA, Gift of Tony Podesta Collection; © Shirin Neshat

Perhaps because of gendered, racial, and class-based expectations about a woman’s “place” in the world, many women artists examine the subjects of homelands and migration. Artists in this section convey the impact that cultural identity, living environments, and community have on people’s perceptions of themselves and others.

Many artists identify with a mother country, creating images that demonstrate their emotional connection to familiar locales and cultural customs. Others yearn for a sense of belonging, focusing on the experience of physical journeys or the complexities that arise with exile, migration, and hybrid identities. These works reveal our global culture, in which “home” is primarily a state of mind.

Gallery Highlights:

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) addresses topics of exile and nostalgia in her multimedia works. In On Guard (1998), Neshat photographs the hands of a woman clasping a microphone. Out of frame, the woman wears a chador, an enveloping black garment worn by some Iranian women to cover their heads and bodies in public. Neshat photographed the woman’s exposed hands and inscribed Farsi poetry directly onto the image, forming a veil-like screen over her subject’s skin. On Guard exemplifies some of the dichotomies that have shaped Iranian society: man and woman, communication and silence, freedom and oppression.

Faith Ringgold, American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas, 1997; Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 80 1/2 x 76 in.; NMWA, Purchased with funds donated by the Estate of Barbara Bingham Moore, Olga V. Hargis Family Trusts, and the Members’ Acquisition Fund; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

The story quilt American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas (1997), by Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), pays homage to African American dancer Josephine Baker. Baker left the United States for Paris, where she rose to legendary status and lived until her final days. The “banana dance” that she performed in 1926 cemented her fame. Offstage, Baker supported the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. and used her prominence to bolster support for the cause.

A large-scale collage including striped and polka-dotted fabrics; the masthead of Smith's reservation newspaper, Char-Koosta; parts of a U.S. map; and a comic strip. These collaged elements are juxtaposed with blocks of stained or roughly brushed and dripped paint.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Indian, Indio, Indigenous, 1992; Oil and collage on canvas, 60 x 100 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase: Members’ Acquisition Fund; © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

The richly layered painting Indian, Indio, Indigenous (1992) by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940) is influenced by her childhood on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. The work criticizes the historical desecration of American Indian lands and continued injustices to native peoples and their cultures. She said, “My work comes from a visceral place—deep, deep as though my roots extend beyond the soles of my feet into sacred soils.”

—Susan Fisher Sterling is the Alice West Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: January 6, 2017

Carmen Herrera, now 101 years old, discusses her career with the Guardian. Herrera recalls the obstacles she faced as a woman artist in the mid-20th century. She explains, “Because everything was controlled by men, not just art.”

Herrera famously sold her first painting at age 89. The Huffington Post discusses her solo show Lines of Sight at the Whitney Museum of American Art, on view through January 9, 2017.

Front-Page Femmes

The Women’s March on Washington, in collaboration with the Amplifier Foundation, asks for art submissions to be used on posters and banners during the march. The deadline is 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 8, 2017.

She Who Tells a Story artist Shirin Neshat describes her photograph Speechless from the series “Women of Allah.” Neshat says, “It’s usually printed larger than life—so that when someone stands in front of it, the gun is pointing straight at their stomach.”

Barbara Jatta is the first woman to direct the Vatican Museums.

The Guardian features vivid, abstract paintings by Sandra Blow.

Leila Abdelrazaq draws comics representing the experiences of Palestinian refugees and immigrants.

Wiebke Maurer sculpts place settings in gold and silver filigree.

Artsy highlights eight women who turned food into feminist art.

Bustle reviews the film Hidden Figures, based on Margot Shetterly’s book about the black women mathematicians who helped make space flight possible.

The New York Times interviews Ruth Negga about her leading role in the film Loving.

Alexis Arnold poses discarded books and covers them in borax crystals.

New York’s Second Avenue Subway features expansive public art installations by Sarah Sze and Jean Shin.

NPR remembers Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

Beyoncé will be the first black woman to headline the music festival Coachella.

Actress Marlene Dietrich accumulated a massive collection of books and left handwritten notes in many of them.

NPR records Angel Olsen performing her song “Give It Up” in a church in the Bronx.

“Horror creeps into the most ordinary lines” in the novel Fever Dream by Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin.

In her new short story collection, Difficult Women, Roxanne Gay explores “stories of women who go to impossible places but are fighting to find their way back.”

Shows We Want to See

Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush, opening next month at the Nasher Museum of Art, features around 30 of Abney’s paintings. “Through her monumental paintings, Abney gives us the chance to have a meaningful conversation about issues of racial violence and social justice.”

The Creators Project interviews the co-directors of the crowd-sourced NASTY WOMEN Exhibition. The Huffington Post shares a small selection of the featured works submitted by 694 artists.

The Georgia Museum of Art features kinetic sculptures by New Orleans-based artist Lin Emery. “Executed in either polished or brushed aluminum, the sculptures take their cue from music, dance, and natural forms.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: August 19, 2016

Nan Goldin asks, “I’m not responsible for anything like social media, am I? Tell me I’m not.”

The New York Times draws parallels between Goldin’s signature work, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, and the current culture of image sharing.

Front-Page Femmes

Hyperallergic writes, “We should all be inspired by Alma Thomas’s optimism.”

Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculpture garden in Tuscany contains 22 “massive, globular forms of divine goddesses and strange beasts.”

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, will travel to four additional museums in North America. The Art Newspaper and artnet share the excitement.

Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo tours Bogotá and her studio for the Guardian.

Polixeni Papapetrou uses flowers from a cemetery to explore themes of mourning and remembrance.

The Brooklyn Museum will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

The Art Newspaper explores Shirin Neshat’s two new video works.

Artsy profiles the Neo Naturists, a “body-painting trio of female flashers” that started an underground art movement in the 1980s.

The Huffington Post shares a list of ten exceptional women photographers.

In LACMA’s new video series, Catherine Opie discusses a painting by Thomas Eakins in the museum’s collection.

Alexandra Berg’s pencil drawings “would fool anyone into thinking they were black and white photographs.”

A new solo exhibition presents three recent bodies of work by Barbara Kasten.

Photographer Lisa Minogue creates stylized portraits of Australian women of color by using vibrant face paint.

In her “Reading Women” series, Carrie Schneider photographs and films women artists reading works by their favorite women authors.

artnet shares five interesting facts about Italian artist and activist Tina Modotti (1896–1942) on the anniversary of her birth.

A rare letter by pioneering travel writer Mary Wortley Montagu goes up for sale.

Lisa Hannigan’s latest album “sneaks up and envelops listeners in cocoons of sound.”

The Guardian discusses revolutionary Australian feminist films of the ’90s.

After her directorial debut, Natalie Portman discusses the status of female directors in Hollywood.

Hyperallergic delves into Chantal Akerman’s 1975 film, Je tu il elle.

Shows We Want to See

Paola Pivi: Ma’am at Dallas Contemporary features Italian artist Paula Pivi’s “multicolored polar bears, an upside down plane, a giant inflatable ladder, and a film of live goldfish on an airplane.”

NPR finds “a brave sense of modernity and freedom” in The Art of Romaine Brooks at Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Eau de Cologne at Sprüth Magers gallery presents works by Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Rosemarie Trockel, and Louise Lawler. The exhibition is “rooted in an appreciation for these women who are rare in the field of contemporary art: strident and singular and commercially successful.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Shirin Neshat

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

Visitors study Shirin Neshat’s work in She Who Tells a Story

Visitors study Shirin Neshat’s work in She Who Tells a Story

Shirin Neshat

(b. 1957, Qazvin, Iran; lives New York City)

Shirin Neshat moved to the United States during the Iranian Revolution (1979) and studied fine arts. In 1990, Neshat returned to visit Iran and found a changed country. Inspired to create her best-known photographic series Women of Allah (1993–97), Neshat wrote verses by contemporary Iranian women writers across the surface of her photographs in Farsi.

In Her Own Words

“Art is our weapon. Culture is a form of resistance.”—Shirin Neshat, in a 2010 TED talk

In a way, all of my photographic work is inscribed with poetry. Poetic works allow us to say everything; they offer a subversive language that can transcend the law.”—Shirin Neshat, in an Artforum article

“Under all circumstances, [Iranian women] have pushed the boundary, they have confronted the authority, they have broken every rule in the smallest and the biggest way and once again they proved themselves. . . . Iranian woman have found a new voice and their voice is giving me my voice.”—Shirin Neshat, discussing the Iranian Green Movement in a 2010 TED talk

What’s On View?

Five photographs, including one from Neshat’s “Women of Allah” series (1993–97), and four from “The Book of Kings” (2012) are included in the exhibition.

Shirin Neshat, Ibrahim (Patriots), from the series “The Book of Kings, ”2012; Ink on laser-exposed silver gelatin print, 60 x 45 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels; © Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat, Ibrahim (Patriots), from the series “The Book of Kings,” 2012; Ink on laser-exposed silver gelatin print, 60 x 45 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels; © Shirin Neshat

“The Book of Kings” marks Neshat’s return to black-and-white photography. Neshat found inspiration in stories from participants in the Arab Spring in 2011 and protesters from the Iranian Green Movement in 2009. One portrait on view, Ibrahim (2012), belongs to a part of “The Book of Kings” series Neshat calls the Patriots. The figure meets the viewer’s gaze with his right hand placed over his heart. Neshat inscribed the portrait with calligraphic verses in Farsi from contemporary Iranian poetry, giving the work a powerful effect.

Neshat borrowed the title of her series from the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), an epic Persian poem written a thousand years ago by the poet Ferdowsi. The epic narrates the deeds of legendary and historical kings of Iran, including tales of heroes and villains. Interested in the concept of martyrdom, Neshat says her series explores “how the notions of patriotism, faith, and self-sacrifice always intersect with violence, atrocity, and ultimately death.” She connects triumphs and tragedies of the past to contemporary political demonstrations in Iran and the Middle East. “Perhaps that’s why I became an artist,” says Neshat, “I could build a bridge in between myself and my country. . . re-interpreting historical narratives which I’ve never witnessed but only imagined.”

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: September 18, 2015

Women, Arts, and Social Change is NMWA’s new initiative to address gender parity in the art world. NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling spoke with artnet about the inspiration behind the program and its cross-disciplinary series Fresh Talk. Conversations will feature figures like Carrie Mae Weems and Guerrilla Girl Alma Thomas.

Sterling says, “Current discourse focused on women and social change typically do not include any depth on the arts and programs focused on arts and social change tend to underrepresent women’s contributions. With our mission to champion women through the arts, no organization is more uniquely poised to take up this conversation.”

Front-Page Femmes

ARTnews shares that the The Protector of Home and Family is the “first known visual art work by Dr. Maya Angelou to be publicly exhibited or offered for sale.” Angelou’s art collection also sold for nearly $1.3 million on Tuesday.

The Huffington Post lists 10 historic women photographers, including Nan Goldin, Shirin Neshat, and Diane Arbus.

“I am strong. I am a woman. And I bite like a Mamba!” says a member of the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit to photographer Julia Gunther. Gunther chronicled the work of the majority-female patrol in South Africa.

ARTnews visits artist Natalie Frank in her Brooklyn studio.

ARTINFO includes Joyce Kozloff among the list of 25 most collectible midcareer artists.

Marilyn Minter discusses Photoshop, feminism, fashion, and fine art. A supporter of other women artists, Minter says, “When a show is curated, it has to have other women in, too, or I won’t do the show.”

The New Yorker compares the divergent paths of two Iranian artists, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian and Shirin Neshat.

In honor of the author’s 125th birthday, BBC archivists released lost Agatha Christie radio plays.

Rachel Cassandra’s upcoming book incorporates the work of 20 women street artists in South and Central America.

Women’s Voices Theater Festival is an initiative by 50 of the D.C. region’s professional theaters to present at least one world-premiere play by a female playwright during a six-week period.

Television is as male-dominated as the film industry. This year, women make up 42% of all speaking characters and 27% of behind-the-scenes roles like creators, writers, and producers.

Shows We Want to See

Jewelry and related drawings by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle will be featured at Louisa Guinness Gallery.

A survey of American installation artist Ree Morton is on view at Madrid’s Reina Sofia. Hyperallergic says Morton’s late works “have waded into the contested feminist debate about “women’s art”…by deliberately overstating a girlish, kitschy aesthetic in order to lay bare its gendered stereotypes.”

The Silversmith’s Art: Made in Britain Today at the National Museum of Scotland showcases 150 silverworks and half of the artists are women, “showing the increasingly pivotal role women represent in contemporary British silversmithing.”

(Em)Power Dynamics: Exploring the Modes of Female Empowerment and Representation in Americaan all-woman show—is on view at The Gateway Project Space in New Jersey.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: June 5, 2015

In celebration of the 500th post on the Broad Strokes blog, the museum is launching a new weekly blog series that pulls together recent art news highlights and takes the pulse of women in the arts.

The June 2015 issue of ARTnews is dedicated to women in the art world.

In the central article, Maura Reilly measures the progress and inequities of women’s representation in museums, exhibitions, press, and the art market:

  • In the last ten years, there has been a 10.6% increase in women-led museums, although mostly in museums with smaller budgets.
  • The highest price paid for a work by a living woman artist is $7.1 million for a Yayoi Kusama painting, whereas the highest result for a living man is an editioned sculpture by Jeff Koons for $58.4 million.

Front-Page Femmes

In their annual list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, Forbes did not include any artists or art world professionals.

An analysis of six major literary awards shows that novels about women are less likely to win. Research found that zero women writing female-centric works have won the Pulitzer Prize in the last 15 years.

The Financial Times reports that only 22% of people working in the games industry are women, although women make up almost half of players. Recent mentoring initiatives are intended to help close this gap.

In the New Yorker, Anwen Crawford explores the need for female rock critics. Not placed on the same pedestal as male rock critics, women writers are more often viewed as groupies. Crawford describes, “Groupies have proved an enduring stereotype of women’s participation in rock: worshipful, gorgeous, and despised.”

Shows We Want to See

Lynda Benglis’s gargantuan Water Sources sculptures take over Storm King Art Center. Visit the Huffington Post for some amazing photography.

A solo exhibition of Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat prompts discussions of Islam and gender issues at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Japan Times writer Alice Gordenker covers two exhibitions in Japan featuring historical works by lesser-known Japanese women artists.

For more facts and figures about women in the art world, visit the Advocate section of the museum’s website. Check back for future installments of Art Fix Friday!

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.