"Women's World" essay by Kayla McKutcheon

Women’s World
March 11–20, 2016
written by: Kayla McKutcheon

Women’s World, BAM’s final exhibit in the current space, is a celebration of feminism and femininity by six emerging Saskatoon artists. A play on Woman’s World, the show’s title echoes the names of both a magazine and a Saskatchewan trade show. Tailored to homemakers, the magazine is less about empowering domestic or working women and more about weight loss and gastric bypasses. Female empowerment is also not on the trade show’s agenda. Instead, beauty products, manicures, and clothing are the focus, which, the artists emphasize, does not represent the multifaceted aspects of modern women. The Women’s World artist exhibit, however, celebrates the diversity and positivity—not only of modern women, but also of terms, such as “feminism” and “femininity.”

As members of the next generation of feminist artists, the six artists intend to dismantle the notion that feminist art is angry art. Anger may have played a necessary role during the second-wave movement; however, anger is oftentimes inaccessible for the public today. Alternatively, Women’s World incorporates positivity, humour, and excitement to contribute to the advancing discussions of gender equality.

The six artists have created an atmosphere that welcomes discussion and engagement. Instead of reinforcing the patriarchy, as groups of women often inadvertently or even deliberately do—particularly by holding other women accountable to beauty and body standards, career and domestic expectations, and relationship and motherhood pressures—this group of women not only supports each others’ work, but also their ideas, suggestions, and perspectives. The collaborative element is accompanied by a personal one, as artist Alana Moore emphasizes: “We are a group of individuals who are emerging and working artists with a personally invested story and history that is accompanied by craft and material.”

Xiao Han: For her MFA show in Fall 2015, Xiao created stills from a fabricated movie as a commentary on China’s one-child policy. Titled, The One, and playing numerous roles herself, she exhibited a commentary on the policy’s ramifications for women. Continuing her commentary on gender issues, Xiao created a Barbie dream world for Women’s World. Posing in a dress, shoes, and wig, while still exposing leg and facial hair, the photographed male figure is surrounded by pink: pink lighting, pink objects, and a pink background.

Zoé Fortier: “Manipulating the world to ridiculisé it,” Zoé combines her textile work with her bilingual perspective. Fascinated with Sonia Delaunay, an independent and interdisciplinary woman who expressed herself in textiles, Zoé began sewing. An essential yet undervalued survival skill, sewing serves both functional and artistic purposes. Tote bags, which are universally symbolic of women’s roles as carriers—of water, food, and babies—and also symbolic of shopping and consumer culture, are both humorous and reflective in Zoé’s collection. Reflecting, “one line separates a female from being a prostitute” and that “uteruses should be worn, like hearts, on the sleeves,” leads audiences to critically examine societal notions and to normalize anatomy. By examining terms in two languages, the connotations and literal definitions are revealed, allowing Zoé and the audience to critically analyze meanings.

Alana Moore: Celebrating our insecurities and idiosyncrasies, Alana’s ribbon project communicates the trials and triumphs of mental health. Mementos in award ceremonies, the ribbons, buttons, and flowers acknowledge participation. Many of the ribbons voice the struggles—that people have submitted to the project—which would otherwise remain silenced. The pink ribbons for Women’s World specifically acknowledge attention deficit disorder (ADD) and its connections with workflow and the artistic practice. Both underdiagnosed and exhibited differently in women than in men, ADD is a serious hindrance, as motivation is often only attained under dire threats and circumstances. Aiming to destigmatize mental health treatment, Alana emphasizes, “We have too many pills and not enough communities.” Communities and support systems are integral to lifting the barriers of mental health.

Aralia Maxwell: Curator of Women’s World, Aralia was enthusiastic to collaborate with her past female classmates. Gender and advertising are recurring themes in her work, and her Women’s World pieces are the next transition from her BFA show, which investigated women in 1950s and 1960s advertisements. Expressing, “Advertising is a good gage of what society thinks women should look like,” Aralia integrates crayon, water colours, acrylics, and digital images to create her collages. Each collage focuses on a particular bra style, highlighting the ridiculousness of the trends, transformations, and costume-like qualities of women’s underwear. Although Aralia notes that bras can be positive, she also mentions that breast sizes inform how women are treated professionally and socially.  

Avery Cochlan: Inspired by Pablo Picasso, Avery focuses on her practice on cubism. With her pastels created in a cubist style, Avery creates images of nude women, which open discussions of gender equality.

Alexa Hainsworth: With extensive work in installation, sculpture, and wearable art, Alexa’s Ooh Lala collection is transformative, sensual, and celebratory. Abstracting both the body and physical balance of the wearer, her tulle fabrics and bold colour choices enliven the environment they inhabit. The light reflecting from materials in Alexa’s work causes the audience to question if the air itself is coloured. Drawing inspiration from theatre, dance, and nature, Alexa creates space for the viewer to play.

The Women’s World exhibition will be open March 12 (11 am-4 pm), March 16 (1-6 pm), March 18 (1-6 pm), and March 19 (1-4 pm). Interactive visits will take place, and you are welcome to craft, flip through twentieth-century female magazines—and take their shocking quizzes, and enjoy coffee and tea in the living room space.