Thursday, April 03, 2008

The "F" Word Revisited at Smile Gallery, featuring member Rachel Citrino

Philadelphia WCA member Rachel Citrino exhibited with 5 other artists at Smile Gallery (21st & Chestnut) this past month. Based on the title of the show one might expect work more focused on traditional feminist themes of the body, politics, or domesticity (for example work like Liz Nicklus's "How to be a Girl" and other box assemblages using family photos and old-fashioned advertisements). However, most of the artists' connections to feminism were far more subtle.

Rachel's 8 pieces, mostly works on paper and one large painting/assemblage were bold, brightly colored abstract landscapes inspired by the Italian countryside experienced during a residency. Why are they in a feminist show? Without reading her artist statement one might suppose that the stone walls and towers allude to Rapunzel. But sometimes it really helps to read the artist statement to understand how particular artworks relate to the theme of a show!! Rachel explains how brilliant and fecund the land seemed in contrast to the sparse stone architecture of the aging village communities. Here is the connection. Her colors and compositions are exuberant and lively, showing her joy in her ties to a place. Modern life has separated humanity from nature, but Rachel dives back in, allowing her creative energy to sing with that of the earth.


I still wonder at the curator's need to bring these artists under the title of feminism. Yes, they are women-- strong women with strong work. However, visually the work would have benefitted by being shown in a series of 2-person shows, as the individual artists work did not always speak to each other. Are we coming to a point where the "F" word will be eclipsed by the "H" word? Perhaps this was the point. Feminism has had a negative connotation in much of popular culture. And these artists prove that it doesn't need to. As feminists we can rejoice in being female, create our own image of what it means to be a woman, align ourselves with the richness of the earth, reclaim "women's work" as valuable craft and occupation.


In this exhibition I recognized some of the challenges we face in our member shows. How do you bring together the work of diverse practise in a common show? In the "F" Word Revisited show, the curator made use of prominently displayed artist statements to allow the artists to explain how their work fit the theme. But we are visual artists and should make an effort to have the art speak and make visual connections from piece to piece, whether they be through basic design aspects such as color, line, pattern, or through common materials, or through carefully curated pieces to match a particular theme. Food for thought.
Congratulations to Rachel Citrino on her show and her excellent presentation of work!

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