Back in January, I started making a list of all the art pieces and exhibitions I want to go see this year. The list has grown to two or three pages already, full of everything from a Raphael altarpiece to an interesting contemporary art-meets-science exhibition about the sense of smell, but I thought that I’d highlight some that deal with women artists and gender here. As 2022 continues, I will doubtless discover more exhibitions, but here are my current top three most anticipated shows!
Lookout: MISS CHELOVE
Located in Washington D.C. at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Lookout: MISS CHELOVE is a public art installation by independent art director, muralist and illustrator MISS CHELOVE, a.k.a. Cita Sadeli. Set to run from March 15 to July 31, 2022, the exhibition will feature her four-story mesh-fabric mural Reseeded: A Forest Floor Flow, which depicts a woman surrounded by a montage of floral motifs and botanical species native to the island of Indonesia. This mural explores the relationship between the pandemic and the natural world, asserting women’s critical role in ecological activism.
I just recently discovered MISS CHELOVE and am in love with her work, particularly her street art. I love public art because it is so accessible—it brings aesthetic and cultural values to communities and knocks down barriers that have historically prevented many people from viewing art—and the sheer vibrancy and motion of her murals really take that viewing experience to the next level. It’s amazing to see the wide mix of cultural influences in her work: it ranges from the tropical mysticism of Java, Indonesia to her years immersed in the punk subcultures of the 80s/90s D.C area. She ultimately focuses on women empowerment, indigenous culture, nature and music in her art, which I find to be such a compelling fusion of the traditional and the postmodern. I’m looking forward to the Looking installation!
The Eye Is Not Satisfied with Seeing: Jennifer Packer
Painter Jennifer Packer’s The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing, which opened in 2021 at the Whitney Museum and is set to close on April 17, 2022, features 34 works that tackle the politics of the black body. She appropriates art historical portraiture and still life tradition to criticize viewership of the black subject and the privileges associated with viewership. Many of her portrait subjects are friends and family, deepening the intimacy of each painting. She has described her still lives of flowers as funerary, as vessels of grief, made in response to institutional violence against the black Americans.
She reminds me of Jenny Saville (who I absolutely love), at least in the way that both of them perform political commentary by means of the subversion of traditional portraiture. However, she is an incredible artist in her own right, of course. Her work stands out to me particularly for its emotional quality—even though she comments on widespread, macro-level political issues, she infuses each work with a level of poignancy, intimacy and sentiment. Packer has a heavy quality in her loose, broad brushstrokes and abundant use of bold color, but there is also a delicate aspect that mirrors the more personal context of her paintings. It seems to speak to the enduring pain that anti-black sentiment has caused in many black individuals—that behind every news story and political debate are real people with real experiences. Viewing her work is like viewing a private snapshot of someone else’s life—it would almost feel invasive. It leaves a heavy feeling in the viewer but simultaneously evokes awe and appreciation for the resilience and power of the subjects and their community. To be in the presence of such artwork is bound to be a profound experience, and I’m hoping to get to see this exhibition very soon.
A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt
Currently located at the Brooklyn Museum, A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt delves into the Ancient Egyptian belief and practice of gender transformation: essentially, for a deceased woman to be rebirthed, she must briefly become a man. The Brooklyn Museum gives a fascinating explanation of this cultural belief: “Egyptian medicine taught that a woman, once in her tomb, faced a biological barrier to rebirth. Because the ancient Egyptians believed that in human reproduction it was the man who created the fetus, transferring it to the woman during intercourse, rebirth was impossible for a woman alone. To overcome this perceived problem, a priest magically transformed a woman’s mummy into a man long enough to create a fetus. This required representing a woman with red skin on her coffin—the color normally assigned to a man—and reciting spells that addressed the woman with masculine pronouns, spells also recorded graphically on the coffin. A woman later returned to her original female state and incubated herself for rebirth into the afterlife as a woman.” The collection includes statuettes, a coffin painted red and other ancient artifacts of funerary significance
Viewing any artifact from any ancient culture is so interesting. It’s amazing that we can transcend the vastness of time and history by preserving these objects, by getting little glimpses of what life was like so long ago. But specifically observing these material remnants of women’s role in ancient Egyptian society is beyond interesting—prior to hearing about this exhibition, I had never once heard of the Egyptian medicinal doctrine that stated that women could not make it in the afterlife without assuming a male body. It prompts all sorts of questions and curiosities about the power dynamics in ancient Egypt, how closely ancient Egypt parallels modern interpretations of gender roles, etc.