The Arts

What is 'identity politics'?

Four Taos artists sit down for a frank discussion on this topic and more

By Dena Miller
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 6/26/19

Labels. Have you noticed how much more of a navigation tool they've lately become in maneuvering through our daily lives? Democrat (Republican, independent, socialist). Baby Boomer …

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The Arts

What is 'identity politics'?

Four Taos artists sit down for a frank discussion on this topic and more

Posted

Labels. Have you noticed how much more of a navigation tool they've lately become in maneuvering through our daily lives? Democrat (Republican, independent, socialist). Baby Boomer (millennial, Gen-X, Y, Z). Gluten-free (vegan, pescatarian, keto).

Some of us are comfortable being so patly categorized. Many of us, however, are not.

Allow yourself to consider, for a moment, that you question what should be simple biology: female or male. When it comes to dissecting our existential self-truths -- the mirrors in which we view ourselves or through which we allow others to get a glimpse of us -- such labels become cumbersome. It's a distinction between the superficial and our most personal portrayals.

In an in-depth roundtable discussion hosted by the Harwood Museum of Art, moderator Sarah Stolar, feminist artist and chair of the art department at the University of New Mexico-Taos, has invited three New Mexico artists to discuss today's understanding of gendered imagery and how, in particular, feminine aesthetics are understood.

Nikesha Breeze, Jessamyn Lovell and c Marquez will join Stolar on Friday (June 28) in the Arthur Bell Auditorium at the Harwood for "Pink: Feminine Aesthetics in the Age of Intersectionality." The lively program, beginning at 7 p.m., will consider, in addition to the aforementioned, the interpretation of color as stereotype, the ethics of feminist art and inclusivity and identity politics beyond gender, race and class.

Works by the participating artists will be presented for discussion, along with others from the Pussyhat Project (galvanized by the Women's March on Washington, D.C. in January 2017); Judy Chicago's nonprofit organization, Through the Flower; and Cassils' "Becoming an Image," an extraordinary transgender piece that "works at the interstices of performance, photography and sculpture," according to Cassils' website. Audience participation in the discussion will be welcomed.

Amy Rankin, coordinator of public programs and special events for the Harwood, noted, "This will be a robust conversation that gels together our current Judy Chicago and Alicia Stewart exhibits while expanding the audience and addressing the cultural shifts in women's issues specifically and human issues broadly."

"It opens the floor beyond the label of 'female' into the realm of the nonspecific, androgynous and gender neutral," Rankin continued.

In selecting her panel, Stolar turned to artists with whom, she said, "I used my 'elevator pitch' to ask about the interpretation of feminine stereotypes and how they are seen in society. I was profoundly touched by the honesty of the answers I received, and honored to have those parts of themselves revealed to me."

Stolar, for whom this dialogue is a platform strongly influencing her own work, noted the difficulty of navigating the positive ownership of oneself but also the exhilaration of greater understanding, acceptance and shedding of classification.

"These are complicated issues and they reach a broader community than one might expect," Stolar continued. "I have students [at UNM] that don't identify as either male or female, and it's clear that the conversations related to binary identities are blowing up in a good way."

She continued, "Both Nikesha Breeze and c Marquez identify as nongender specific, which is reflected in their works which we will discuss. Nikesha, who represents herself as 'a black woman, a mother, queer and alive,' defines the essence of intersectionality, while c chooses to avoid gender pronouns."

Visual artist Jessamyn Lovell brings a distinct note to the discussion as she is best known for "Dear Erin Hart," a multiyear project in which she followed and photographed a person who stole her identity.

As to the choice of "pink" in the title of the roundtable, Stolar said, "I specifically chose it because of its long association with the stereotypical feminine image, and now wanting it to denote the power of the female voice, from whomever that voice comes from," Stolar explained.

As an adjunct to Friday evening's roundtable, the Harwood will offer a screening of the 2018 Netflix original documentary "Feminists: What Were They Thinking?" on Saturday (June 29) at 2 p.m.

Directed by Johanna Demetrakas and featuring interviews with such notables as Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Judy Chicago and Laurie Anderson, the retrospective revisits events and images from Cynthia MacAdam's 1977 book, "Emergence," in which these women appeared as pivotal figures in the decade's second-wave feminist movement. It also includes new footage culled from the 2016 presidential election, the 2017 Women's March and Demetrakas' second documentary on artist Chicago.

An October 13, 2018, review of the film by The Daily Dot remarked, "Radical change is never linear … Demetrakas acquaints us with women who helped usher us this far while reminding us how much further we have to go. The film illustrates how there was no single or straight path to liberation for these women - and there is not one for us, either."

It's an observation that underscores the importance of this weekend's conversations, and that makes a case to keep these issues at the forefront of our consideration.

Tickets for "Pink: Feminine Aesthetics in the Age of Intersectionality" are $10. It is free to museum members and UNM students and staff. Tickets for "Feminists: What Were They Thinking?" are free to museum members and to the public with general museum admission.

The Harwood Museum of Art is located at 238 Ledoux Street. For more information, call (575) 758-9826 or visit harwoodmuseum.org.

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