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Three Exhibitions About Women and by Women Artists You Shouldn't Miss This Month 

It's March, which means it's Women's History Month, and among the various ways you should and can celebrate is by visiting three worthy exhibitions about and by women artists.

The New Masters: Women Artists of Northeast Ohio, which closes March 23, is a powerful showcase of female artists representing several counties throughout the area. Per the statement issued by the Florence O'Donnell Wasmer Gallery, "As students of art history know, the 'Old Masters' were the European painters regarded as the best artists before about 1800. And they were, for the most part, men."

A prime example of overlooked talent is the great painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who has been pushed aside in the history books despite her magnificent ability and high caliber work.

From the hauntingly dynamic painting by Stanka Kordic to Susan Squires' exquisite encaustic artwork — as well as Julianne Edberg's fiber art sculpture and the rad woven art of Deborah Silver — you will be hard pressed to leave this show without wanting more.

Self-described protest painter Laura Dumm's "A Prisoner No More" (pictured) is probably the most powerful and in-your-face painting in the exhibition. "Being a woman in a man's world, I decided to use Venus, the goddess of love, as the centerpiece of my painting to show how women, for centuries, have been made to feel less powerful than men, and more like property," states the artist. She continues, "This painting is not only about the obvious Me Too movement to end sexual abuse, but also about ending the inequality that we as women have fought to get rid of for decades. I remember the women's liberation marches in the '60s. Funny, they marketed to us a cigarette and a slogan, "You've come a long way baby!" but our paycheck was still way smaller than a man doing the same job."

Leslye Discont Arian's drawing, "See No Evil," also speaks in response to the Me Too movement. "It is liberating to be part of a sisterhood of women who will no longer overlook or silence their voice about their emotional, psychological and or physical scars from sexual assault," she says. With its muted butterscotch yellows, phthalo blues and fleshy pink, we encounter a solemn figure standing below what appears to be another, larger figure casting its hands over the eyes of a third figure. A disembodied hand seems to reach for help or to signal a stop to the madness. Discont Arian drives her point home in this beautifully understated artwork.

We would be remiss if we didn't mention Woman XI, the annual exhibition at Lakeland Community College curated by Mary Urbas. This show, as the title card states, is "Celebrate Women's History Month from WOMAN XI. Created by women, of women and about women." Urbas, who has brought together so many cool and offbeat art shows in the past, has pulled together some wonderful talent from across the nation for this one. The artist reception and awards ceremony is March 25, and the show runs through March 30.

Then there is Don't Be Still at Hedge. At first glance I was put off by the whole shebang. Women with bags over their heads? Ugh. Perhaps our lives have been mansplained to us again and again through film and painting. I can't help but contemplate how Thee Art Gods have tried to convey the female body and experience, but just can't quite get it.

The more I learned about this two-person show by the celebrated filmmaker Robert Banks and painter John W. Carlson, however, the more I made my own stereotypes take a back seat. This gorgeous show of paintings and film is poignantly divine and the artists are sincerely trying to extend the olive branch. That their models had written about their experiences is deeply moving and one can wholeheartedly applaud the idea and the work.

"Don't Be Still" features film work by Banks, and a new series of paintings by Carlson, which form an interactive experience in which black-and-white film and large, personal paintings intersect to create a stage for dialogue, as Hedge Gallery has succinctly put it. "Our belief is that this exhibit will open doors for men and women to more openly discuss gender issues and hopefully peel away the many dark layers that have formed major barriers to human interaction."

The work is definitely strong and Carlson's paintings deliver the jagged pain that truly portrays his collaboration with the models. Contorted female figures each donning the Little Black Dress all wear bags over their heads. The visual experience evokes both queasiness and fascination.

Banks, known for his fantastic analog film technique, has captured the models as only he can. The artists state, "We believe that if society as a whole can place women and men on an equal level, the value of the female gender will increase, informing both sides of strengths, capabilities and contributions of the opposite sex. We would hope that as education on gender equality grows, there would be a decrease in the pressure individuals may feel to conform to standard ways of thinking, which often leads to oppressive behavior, abuse, and violence."

We hope so as well.

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