“New Beginnings,” an All-Woman Exhibition, Opens This Week at Waterloo Arts

click to enlarge “New Beginnings,” an All-Woman Exhibition, Opens This Week at Waterloo Arts
The Story of Magic by Stina Aleah

As 2021 kicks off, leaving the hellscape of 2020 in the rearview, Waterloo Arts is starting things off appropriately with "New Beginnings," an all-female exhibition curated by CIA grad Davon Brantley that opens on Jan. 8 at 6 p.m.

The exhibition will feature 10 female artists from the area working in a multitude of mediums including photography, painting, drawing, animation, 3D models, and fashion. This will be Brantley’s curatorial debut.

Brantley is passionate about representing these women from a variety of cultural backgrounds in a way to call attention to what he feels is their lack of visibility in the art world.

“I have worked with a handful of these artists and the stories they have told me, the art work they do and the approaches they take for creation is fascinating,” said Brantley. “It made me think of the spaces I have walked into where I don't really learn about the women of the art world, where I do not get to see what they bring to other mediums and how they advance those mediums and conversations. It was especially important for me to get women who were of different cultures because that’s usually who we don’t get to see or read a lot about.”

Although Brantley, whose work references Renaissance and Baroque portraiture, will not be exhibiting, it will be interesting to see how he approaches the exhibition from a curatorial perspective. Brantley feels this exhibition amplifies the voices that don’t fit Western art history’s cliché of what he calls the tortured “white male hero” artist.

“The cliché, from what I have experienced is that we usually see the white males of art history talk about their European male perspective of tragedies and trials and their 'hero’s' journey on how they became what they are and how they create their work,” said Brantley. "They become the protagonist of everyone’s lives and no one can experience more pain than them nor do they relate to other’s pain, for the simple fact that it’s outside of their “bubble.” I think the art world rides on this heavily because we can see that bubble clearly, just by the fact that no one else’s perspectives are shown or accepted with as much praise as the white male hero’s tale.”

One of the pieces from the exhibition is a painting entitled “The Story of Magic,” by artist, Stina Aleah. The painting depicts an African American woman sitting erect on top of giant editions of culturally pivotal texts such as "Kindred" by female African American Science Fiction writer Octavia E. Butler and "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by author, anthropologist and film maker Zora Neale Hurston, a novel which was generally dismissed by male reviewers when it was published in 1937 before being republished in 1978 and which has since been met with acclaim in the canon of African American Literature.

Perhaps this painting represents how African American women ‘sit on the shoulders’ of African American visionaries who’ve toiled, sometimes even in obscurity, before them under the oppression of a white, male dominated society full of prejudice, misogyny and elitism. The woman subject is portrayed in modern dress and is realistically observed. The stance of the subject is confident while pensive. Her right hand is raised and her lips parted as if on the verge of making a statement reflecting on what insights these texts have gleaned.

Another piece in the exhibition is by Younghyeon Ryu, entitled, “Growing.” It is an animated piece featuring a grown woman ‘in utero’ underground, the Earth as her womb or operating as an incubator. She is surrounded by dismembered body parts and we see heads of women sprouting up like cabbages in a long field against the backdrop of clouded sky and a large treehouse under which the grim reaper approaches the entranceway to the fenced-in ‘harvest.’

Could this represent the commodification of womanhood and their objectification on this earth; a sequestered existence with death being the only escape? Her work is reminiscent of the work of Japanese animator, director, producer, screenwriter, author, and manga artist Hayao Miyazaki, most well-known for his 2001 film “Spirited Away,” which in his native country of Japan won best picture at the 2002 Japanese Academy Awards.

“This show has a plethora of different themes coming from women who have lived very different lives,” said Brantley. “The audience will see these themes explored in depth by how the artists present them. Their work allows the audience to think deeply about those questions: what does it mean to break stereotypes? What does it mean to not be presented as a stereotype to prove a point? What does it mean to be black in America? What does it mean to step out of forced traditions and standards? What does it mean to look at the beauty of death instead of the horrid parts? What does it mean to have loss? Disconnection with culture? All of that will be explored.”
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