Fed up with an inaccessible and market-driven gallery system, alternative art spaces were sprouting up in New York in the 70s. The traditional gallery system was very difficult to enter if you were not a white male. Because there where almost no women artists represented by galleries, in 1972, Susan Williams and Barbara Zucker were joined by Dotty Attie, Maude Boltz, Mary Grigoriadis, and Nancy Spero to take matters into their own hands. They selected fourteen more women artists and founded A.I.R. Gallery, an artist-run, not for profit organization for women artists.¹
For their 45 years anniversary, the gallery initiated The Unforgettables Program. They look back and restage past A.I.R. shows to explore the questions raised back then and which are still very urgent today. The final iteration of this program is Dialectics of Entanglement: Do We Exist Together? This exhibition is in conversation with Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States, a 1980 exhibition by A.I.R. members Ana Mendieta and Kazuko Miyamoto and Zarina. It included the works by Judith Baca, Beverly Buchanan, Janet Olivia Henry, Senga Nengudi, Lydia Okumura, Howardena Pindell, Selena W. Persico, and Zarina.
For the initial exhibition, Ana Mendieta vocalized in 1980 is representative of second-wave feminism and is still an issue today: “American Feminism as it stands is basically a white middle-class movement.” The issue that can’t be avoided in current feminist discourse is that there is not one universal type of women oppression, it is determined by race, class, sexuality, health, amongst others. Feminism should not only aim at the emancipation of white women. It should not be white-centred. However, instead of focussing on the injustices in society and the exclusion of women of colour, Mendieta chose “to continue being “other.”” and she states: “a search, a questioning of who we are and how we will realize ourselves.”²
For the current show, the eight aforementioned artists are included, mainly with the original pieces and includes a moving image by Regina José Galindo, and a performative lecture by Che Gossett. Next to each of the original artists hangs a label from the ceiling that shows their 1980 artist statement and a contemporary reflection of it. The curators also created a corresponding catalogue which includes the writings of the curators Roxana Fabius and Patricia M. Hernandez, Rachael Rakes, and Aruna D’Souza.
The show includes different ranges of political content. Judith F. Baca wonders what would be the state of the world if God had been a woman? She studied scholars who found out that 50,000 years BC, religions existed in which god was a woman. She created these drawings as examples “of valiant female creators and their symbology of female strength.” In Howardena Pindell’s moving image Free, White and 21, 1980, she deals with the many racist behaviours she faces every day. She wrote in 1980: “The white feminist who wishes equality for herself too often remains a racist in her “equality,” her racism unnoticed by colleagues who also may carry the same poison.”³ Janet Henry’s The Studio Visit, 1982 is a mini studio with plenty of miniature objects in which a black Barbie(like?) doll faces a white woman Barbie(like?) doll. The title is The Studio Visit, but who is the artist and who is the visitor?
It also includes works that are not explicitly political, such as Zarina’s wonderful Corners, 1980. She uses paper pulp to create this concrete like abstract objects. She uses natural pulp and pigment and states about it: “I have always liked its texture and fragility, how it will become part of the earth it came from.”⁴
So what does the restaging of this exhibition mean? How can white feminism be reformed to an intersectional one? It should not merely be a friendly welcoming of feminists of colour, as Aruna D’Souza has written, but a decentering of it, and a “celebration of difference” a way forward.⁵
The exhibition is on view at A.I.R. Gallery in Dumbo until September 2nd, 2018. For more information click here.
¹ The eventual group included Rachel bas-Cohain, Judith Bernstein, Blythe Bohnan, Agnes Denes, Daria Dorosh, Loretta Dunkelman, Harmony Hammond, Laurace James, Nancy Kitchell, Louise Kramer, Anne Healy, Rosemary Mayer, Patsy Norvell and Howardena Pindell.
² Ana Mendieta in the 1980 Introductory essay from the catalogue for Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States.
³ Howardena Pindell in her 1980 artist statement for Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States.
⁴ Zarina in her 2018 artist statement for Dialectics of Entanglement: Do We Exist Together?
⁵ Aruna D’Souza, Curating Difference, 2018