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Artists Urge: Break Limits, Follow Bliss

4471256-eef3c3854944a4592fc431921775ec2bWhen you are true to the things you love, the things that enrich you and share it with others, it all comes back tenfold. I also allow myself more freedom as time goes on… something I never regret.

– Julian Adair

That’s from Julian Adair, dancer, choreographer and photographer.

Her words remind me of Professor Joseph Campbell’s call to “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” I first heard this when I was newly graduated from business management and looking ahead to a life that wasn’t “me.” Armed with a practical degree, I took a U-turn, earning a Ph.D. in sociology. That leap into bliss has brought me both joy and achievement. Bliss-following has also worked for Ms. Adair and the many artists highligted in a new book called Les Femmes Folles.

Artists like Laura Burhenn, front-woman of the Mynabirds, Jamie Pressnall of Tilly & The Wall, ground-breaking poet and author, Marilyn Coffey, the multi-published author, Kathleen Rooney, the award winning playwright Robin Rice Lichtig, award winning filmmaker Kat Candler, fashion designer, Kate Walz and contemporary artist Alexandra Grant reflect on how feminism impacts their art and their lives.

Brooke Hudson is an event/fashion show producer who won’t let stereotypes, or anything else, block her way:

I embrace feminism as an ideology that all women should have the choice and freedom to pursue their best life… whether that be a doctor, lawyer, pageant contestant, fire fighter, accountant, entrepreneur, stay-at-home mom…

I’m keenly aware that being petite and blonde with a high-pitched voice working in fashion, with a pageant or two on my record, doesn’t necessarily add up to the image of someone who would be taken seriously in business. I could have let that notion turn into a fear that would hold me back from facing an opportunity that I’m well-suited for.

I realized that fear represented the very stereotypes the feminist movement had worked so very hard to dispel… the most important thing I’ve learned in that experience is that to be respected by others, we must first respect ourselves.

Artist, Jacqueline Bequette also knows that there is strength and support in numbers and that feminism can move us beyond the insecurities and resulting isolation and back-biting that breaks people apart and weakens them:

I want to do away with the competition model of relationships among women. We isolate each other when we see each other as a threat via attractiveness, status, having it all, etc. Comparison kills community.

And in fact, Les Femmes Folles emerged as a Nebraska community of women artists helped to buttress each other.

Les Femmes Folles is a beautifully illustrated introduction to feminist artists who are creating community, breaking through limitations and following their bliss.

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Dominance, Submission, Meaning & VOICE

Dominance, Submission, Meaning & VOICE

Sally Deskins, Red Belly

Feminism has long sought to gain equality by obliterating dominance and submission. Yet some find the ends of this dichotomy alluring… erotic, and seek to drink in both sides. So comes the quandary: how to sustain this sensuality yet stay true to a feminist commitment? That’s a question that artist, Trilety Wade asks in the new exhibit: Les Femmes Folles: VOICE.

Wade knows that submission and dominance can vacillate and be exchanged. She explores how balance might be gained in the space between while reveling in both sides. As she describes it:

I usually find myself on the cusp of submitting. I almost give in to my desires. I almost give in to another person. I never wholly submit, thus I am also dominant. That push and pull of submission and dominance leaves me in a static state of anticipation, which is reflected in the distance between the figures in my paintings.

My paintings make me question why there are some people and desires I want to submit to, and why I never allow myself the freedom to either be submissive or dominant; instead I freeze.

Moving to other matters involving passion, power, surrender and control, Sally Deskins’ “Red Belly” signifies motherhood, the scarlet color evoking fiery emotion, passion and sacrifice — which may be ennobling blood-life or deadening blood-loss. The energy of this red belly calls to mind more life than loss, though the two may be intertwined.

A passionate theme continues in the seductive vibes of breasts and loins:

The curly-prints from my pubic hair give the image an erotic flair. The white stamped nipples provide a ghostly aura, and the various drips and red line at the bottom sheds light on the beautiful indeterminism that is visual art and sometimes life as well.

Inspired by Yves Klein’s “Anthropometries,” Deskins’ self-portraits explore the relationship of mind and body. She paints her body with as if it were a canvas and then physically straps herself to paper or canvas to form an imprint, painting her psyche on what appear to be a series of Rorschach Inkblot Tests. Through these self-portraits Deskins searches for her voice.

Ella Weber explores how identity evolves over a lifetime. In her “Boy’s n’ toys” series she places a person next to a person-sized inanimate object from pop culture. The drawings seem to be all about innocence, nostalgia and humor. But look closely and see something more subversive.

In “but is she worth it?” Weber places Mrs. Butterworth’s on a bed of sticky syrup. Next to her a woman holds a plate in each hand, resembling scales. Perhaps she’s weighing her options, to serve or not?  A stack of hotcakes lie between the two figures.

What is the appeal of nostalgia… falling back to a place of greater inequity when women and Blacks were all about serving others? Why does the past still loom so large? And why is it so sticky?

Inanimate object and human being stand side by side. What does it mean to be human – and female? How does identity grow? And might those hotcakes be just fine levitating in thin air? Weber voices the questions.

Wanda Ewing knits social commentary into latch-hook yarn rugs that explore how race factors into society’s notions of feminine beauty and sexuality. The interlace of gender and race adds further texture. In her hands a surprising juxtaposition of risqué images of women’s bodies attaches to cozy yarn rugs. As if Madonna and whore are woven together?

Megan Loudon Sanders delves into identities that lie hidden yet seek expression. Historically, women were asked to conform to rigid standards that left their potential concealed from them. By mixing stylistically dissimilar elements, Sanders depicts a woman who at first glance could pass for any suburbanite. Yet she subversively announces on her body, This is who I am:

A young woman in a blue polka-dot dress brings her teacup up to sip, a simpering smile to the viewer. Intricate and colorful tattoos line her hands and arms, challenging the pristine environment.

While identities can lie hidden, so can the emotional significance of everyday life. Trudie Teijink uses a digital camera to document the remnants of family suppers, highlighting the colors and shapes of food and the utensils used to prepare it. She reveals how art emerges in the mish-mash that falls together. Her work makes us ponder how sentiments and human connections arise through the sights, smells and tastes of food, and of preparing and imbibing together. But sometimes, she says, the mundane still seems futile.

While domesticity seems a safe haven, home can be dangerous. Marcia Joffe-Bouska uses barbed nests to pose the question, “How might things appear safe when they are not?”

Joffe-Bouska also uses egg and nest imagery to express the worth of each individual and to explore how we might create our own safe havens. Strong metal nests signify strength, fabrications representing DNA indicate smarts, and lacy trimmings suggest patience. Each egg/nest combo represents a reason, a justification, or a reminder of why we have value. And each titled piece opens with this mantra: “I am ….”

Other themes look at the voices in our heads, how so much of the work women do everyday lies invisible or seemingly insignificant even to those who do it, and performance art invites attendees to write out notes to be re-interpreted by performers, with response. And more.

Women are speaking up, challenging status quo power politics and giving voice to lives and identities that too often remain shrouded and undervalued, all the while promoting positive communication in the VOICE exhibit.

Together, this art calls for deeper thought, broader expansion, and raised voices.

Co-curated by Sally Deskins and Megan Loudon Sanders, VOICE artists include Marcia Joffe-Bouska, Sally Deskins, Wanda Ewing, Kristin Lubbert, Jewel Noll, Melanie Pruitt, Amy Quinn, Megan Loudon Sanders, Trudie Teijink, Trilety Wade and Ella Weber.

Les Femmes Folles Presents: VOICE, a curated exhibition

The New BLK, 1213 Jones St.

Opening reception: Friday, April 13, 7-10p.m. Exhibition runs thru April 30. Preview art-talk at Indian Oven: April 11, 7p.m.
Art Talk at The New BLK, April 18, 7p.m.


Call for art

Deadline: April 6, 5pm deliver to The New BLK, 1213 Jones St.

Open to: artists who identify themselves as women

Les Femmes Folles: Voice is a curated exhibit featuring the artistic perspective of 11 Midwestern artists who are women at The New BLK Gallery opening April 13, 2012. The artists would like to also showcase the VOICES of other artists who are women with a collaborative piece. Artists are invited to create a mouth in any medium, in 2-dimensional form, no larger than 18×24” that can be hung on a wall. Deliver to The New BLK by April 6 to have it included in the show opening April 13 with artist contact information. Details or mloundons@unmc.eduor

More information on the exhibit at or

Beastly Breasts. Patriarchy? Or Blasphemy?

Paper 4In honor of women’s history month I talked with Brock Neilson, a feminist artist who wonders if he might sometimes unconsciously support patriarchy.

Or, is he blasphemous instead?

BB: It’s very easy for anyone, including feminists, to unconsciously see and think in patriarchal ways, at least some of the time, since we’re all immersed in the system. You wonder if you sometimes unconsciously support patriarchy in your art. How so?

BN: This past year a lot of my art has been about someone – or something — that has enormous or strange looking breasts. These images are what I’d imagine a drunken fraternity or a 12-year-old boy drawing.

I imagine that these kinds of perversions are part of the package with which males are endowed in society, and I feel a responsibility to address that somehow.

Sometimes I might want the breasts to look uncomfortably disfigured or I might want the viewer to feel a kind of confusion about the body they are seeing. The breasts could also be more humane when they are not perfectly shaped or as easily sexualized, but I worry that I might be reinforcing patriarchy by not allowing something as commonly fetishized as breasts — or the person or entity to which the breasts belong — to just exist without having to be ugly, or strange, or beautiful, or symbolic. However, this concern is unavoidable as these images are being filtered through my nonobjective brain and hands.

The ultimate goal of feminism is to not have to be the mother, the champion goddess, the victim, or even a female or a male in order to have credibility and dignity. It is the hope that everyone could simply be who they want to be without having to force ourselves into degrading positions.

That said, I think it’s important to express these positions — or distortions — of power and powerlessness (and the variations between). My art is preoccupied with the slots we pop people into: the corporate leader, the androgynous, the porn victim, the violent athlete, the disabled or disfigured. I find that I’m often exploring possibilities for a better world by regurgitating things that are offensive to me.

BB: How might your work be blasphemous instead, working against patriarchy?

BN: There’s been a big focus among popular male artists to make big objects and paintings that can be bought and sold — similar to a Wall Street investment. This approach to art is problematic. I have been decorating a lot of brown paper in my work because it’s cheap and accessible. Being a male who is involved in decorating materials that require a kind of gentleness can be a blasphemous act.

I remember overhearing a mother years ago who was telling her five year old son not to smell flowers because she was afraid that this would make him look “gay.” I was so taken back that this innocent behavior — a child smelling flowers — was already perceived as inferior. My work, however crude it may be, is concerned with a hope of reclaiming this kind of sensitivity.

Tawnie Silva, an artist I discovered this last summer, made a beautiful inflatable sculpture of a quirky four-eyed girl with a rainbow coming out of her head. It’s made of fragile plastic bags, but Tawnie Silva’s body is brawny and masculine. It is especially sacrilegious to commercial gender ideals when men make things that are sweet and delicate. Both women and men need to protect and make space for vulnerable things in others and in themselves. This is an important way that we can expand and break dangerous gender stereotypes.

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