No apologies, no excuses

Artists in 'Dames' bring their whole selves to provocative exhibition

By Tamra Testerman
Posted 6/19/19

The "Dames" visual art show that opens Friday (June 21) at the Stables Gallery is promoted as "an unapologetically female visual art show." You might ask, do female artists need to apologize for …

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No apologies, no excuses

Artists in 'Dames' bring their whole selves to provocative exhibition


The "Dames" visual art show that opens Friday (June 21) at the Stables Gallery is promoted as "an unapologetically female visual art show." You might ask, do female artists need to apologize for showing their work?

According to artist Claire Briggs, who is also curator for the show, the phrase goes deeper. "We thought of women who don't apologize for their beauty, brains and talent. I wanted a show that is a cast of phenomenal women, bringing their whole selves into their work. The artists selected are outsider artists, artists that don't fit into a category. The artists selected to present in the show have works that are saturated, busy and loaded with symbolism and messages. I didn't want two painters, or only textile artists. I wanted the best artist from each medium. Each artist's medium highlights the difference in talent, but also enriches the collective."

The opening reception for this adventurous exhibition is from 6-10 p.m. at the Stables Gallery of the Taos Center for the Arts at 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. There will be libations, nibbles, music and a chance to mingle with the women behind the work.

According to Briggs, local radio personality Noche will curate the music, and "for the taste portion of the sensory spectrum of the show, chef Ryan Schuessler will present eloquent hors d'oeuvres. Cold punch is provided by Anne Kauffman, and a secret biscochito treat could be on the menu from an award-winning baker."

The work of Briggs, Amy Montoya, Salma Vir Banks, Tera Muskrat and Ashley Wilson are all part of the show. According to Briggs, you'll see "Muskrat's iconoclastic figurative Nuevo Mexicano paintings, Briggs' own crochet blanket tapestries of words, Wilson's intricate paper collages, Vir-Banks' sculptural headpieces and Montoya's recycled, found object jewelry. Each artist's medium and the message is her own. Each artist explores ideas to an obsessive and explosive extent, creating a work that is fascinating and precise in execution and meaning."

Briggs said "some artists stop with their vision at pomp and circumstance. These five female artist go there and show what it means to get something off their chest, and create new work worth more time than a 'swipe right' or 'like.' "

Tempo asked the women in the show what inspires them - here is what they said.

Montoya was born and raised in Taos. What inspires her is "the gente, cultural landscapes and traditions of Northern New Mexico, local artists who are pushing the realms of 'traditional' New Mexican and native art, and who are also using nontraditional materials in their artwork. I draw inspiration from chola and rockabilly culture. I'm exploring ways to address sociopolitical, environmental issues and New Mexico's complex history in my artwork. Women that embrace their inner chingona inspire me."

Montoya continued, "I get a lot of mixed reactions with people who don't understand my work, and in particular my use of certain discarded objects. I bring a lot of museum object theory into my work. To me an object can embody so many meanings more than its original use or function. I think art should make people uncomfortable, and it should start dialogue and challenge us to think different. We should never apologize for our art."

Briggs draws inspiration from conversations, language and color. She said she listens to people tell their stories, "and I listen for expressions of language that hold weight and can stand on their own. Words have power. I am drawn to bright, contrasting colors."

She doesn't just crochet hats and scarves. Briggs said she "crochets to cope with the grief and trauma of growing up. She creates shields of armor with her tapestries, as each story spun is a life lesson, or joke, about how hard it is to be OK in your own skin. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn, one stitch at a time."

Vir-Banks said she is inspired by "black women, survivors, freedom fighters, warriors, the colors purple and blue, fabric texture, fashion, history, addiction recovery, movement, cadence, layers to a song, shiny things, [her] South Asian heritage, passion, self-destruction, transformation, growth, astrology, tarot, homelands, [her] friends, [her] mother, trials and tribulations, survival, and love."

Vir-Banks takes the wounds of trauma and said she "transform[s] them into raw and dazzling feminine beauty."

Muskrat is inspired by "the culture, landscape, and stories of New Mexico." She said she paints "women I know and the stories they tell. Each of my paintings tries to encapsulate and present a woman's character, her life, pains, joy, her passions. To me, these are the most beautiful things."

Briggs elaborated on Muskrat's work, saying her versions of the sacred Mother Mary "thrust their raw sexuality and bravado in your face with the celebratory sparkle of Dollar Store tiaras. She pokes fun of the virgin-whore complex with such confidence and clarity that her loaded compositions highlight the dark side of the stagnant and oppressive roles most women are squeezed into and endure. The devil is in the details in Muskrat's paintings, as the ordinary winks at the viewer with a cheeky knowing glance."

Wilson said "life, current events, my surroundings, beauty and, of course, my imagination!" are what inspires her. Briggs said Wilson's "cutouts and imagery are a kaleidoscope of fun, style and beauty. It pulls the viewer into a rabbit hole, down into her secret garden of cool. We can define her art as putting all your likes into one envelope, shaking it up and dumping it out again. Her compositions are the visual scramble of what it looks like coding a language onto complex feelings we don't have names for yet."

"This show, for me," Wilson said, "represents the growth I have experienced in the last eight months. It has brought out a love and desire to create that I didn't think I had in me anymore. This show has truly been a labor of love."

Briggs added, "This is a show unlike any other in Taos right now, and you won't want to miss artwork that stuns, shocks, stings, jokes, tugs on heartstrings and, most importantly, reveals the truth."

The work will be on view until June 23. Admission is free. For more information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit


Opening reception

Friday (June 21), 5 p.m.

Stables Gallery, 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte

Free admission

(575) 758-2052


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