Thursday, November 5, 2009

The personal is political - a guest post by Amber Musser, Gender Politics

In thinking about what to share on the Draper Community blog, I decided to take a slightly personal route.

First, I’m going to tell you a bit about my mother, Camille. She is a Boston-based painter from the Caribbean.

She is also featured in the recent documentary film, “Who Does She Think She Is?”

“Who Does She Think She is?” is a film that documents the lives of five female artists and “their struggles to lead creative lives while balancing family and motherhood.” It is directed by Pamela Tanner Boll, the Academy-Award winning co-executive producer of Born into Brothels. Boll describes the women as “a testament to both the heartbreak and the beauty of a 21st century life lived in art.”

This is where things start to get political. By foregrounding the personal, the film highlights the art of balancing families and careers as well as emphasizing the difficulty that women face in the art world. The under-representation of female artists in museums and galleries is not unknown. The discrepancy between male and female artists in terms of exposure and compensation is large.

So, what does this mean? As someone invested in critical gender studies, I have a number of reactions to the film. I am proud of my mother; proud that she has decided to make art a central part of her life even as it has meant sacrifice and little financial gain. This pride, however, is tempered with sadness and anger at the structural barriers to female participation in the art world and the social negotiation of the role of motherhood. In addition to the issues I've already raised, the film makes visible the tensions in familial negotiations of maternal time. Without financial gain, these women are continually asked to justify time away from their families. Clearly there are numerous gender issues at play including, but not limited to: what does it mean to be a female artist? Is asking these questions reifying already-problematic categories? What types of people fall under these categories and what kinds of art do these people produce? These questions are places where the personal intersects with the political. Art can be a useful tool to help us understand these tensions and open us to up to think differently.

I invite you take up these questions when you explore art in the New York Area. Here’s a list of interesting exhibits/events to get you started:

“The Dinner Party,” the iconic 1970s feminist installation Judy Chicago at the The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum.

“Gender Patterns: Clothing Makes the…” an installation that explores the concept of gay or lesbian clothing at the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation

“Georgia O’Keffe: Abstraction” challenges the viewer to look at O’Keffe’s work from a different (non-floral) perspective at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Also, be sure to check out the Performa festival which features artists like Kalup Linzy and Tracey Emin among others.

Lastly, here is more information on the film featuring my mother, Who Does She Think She Is?
 There is a screening of “Who Does She Think She Is?” on Sunday, November 8 at 2:45 pm at Symphony Space at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street.

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