Female artists at Chapman combat gender bias

Senior art major Carmen Borrison’s “Come On and Get Off!” included three screens with videos of her where she often “breaks the fourth wall.” Photo by Madeleine Caraluzzi

In 1989, the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist group of activist artists, famously published a statistic that stated less than 5 percent of the artists in the Modern Art sections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are women, but 85 percent of the nudes are female.

In 2011, the group conducted the same survey and found that now less than 4 percent of the artists in the Modern Art section of The Met were women, and 76 percent of the nudes were female.

“We were sure things had improved, but surprise!” the Girls write in their satirical book “The Guerrilla Girls’ Updated Art Museum Activity Book,” “Fewer women artists, more naked males. Is this progress? Guess we can’t put our masks away yet.”

Women have historically been marginalized and misrepresented within the arts sector, but more and more we’re beginning to see public art institutions challenged about their representation of women in the collections.

Chapman associate professor Micol Hebron’s crowd-sourced project Gallery Tally found that out of more than 4,000 artists represented in Los Angeles and New York, only 32 percent were women.

The discrepancy in representation can be challenged by bringing to light the creative pursuits of women artists, in turn revising the male-centric definition of  who is an ‘artist.’

This year’s junior exhibition and senior thesis exhibitions featured a magnitude of bright female artists soon to be leaving the world of academic art and entering into the great beyond. Here are a few pieces of work by female artists from this year’s junior and senior studio art exhibitions.

Carmen Borrison – “Come On and Get Off!”

“Hyper-stimulating, at times disorienting, and dripping with satire…,” Borrison, a senior studio art major,  wrote of her piece in the artist statement.

The multi-media installation included three screens looping video of Borrison in various compromising positions and a 22-by-10.5 foot patterned wallpapered panel.

From a distance, the wall paper’s design appears one-dimensional, salmon-hued and repetitive. Up close, however, the viewer becomes subjected to hardcore pornographic images of women sequentially repeated throughout.

“The wallpaper stands as a reminder of the underlying foundation of the hidden societal notions and images of what female sexuality is – as it is perpetuated by pornography catered to the male gaze,” Borrison writes.

Three screens depict various videos of Borrison in which she often “breaks the fourth wall.” In one sequence, she sits nude in a tire with a large stuffed banana held across her body and recites the “machines” she can use herself: an electric toothbrush, a toaster…

“By acting in a satirical way, I’m highlighting the ridiculous impossibility of all of these conflicting expected sexual identities and ideologies: Woman as the virgin, the fertile mother, the giver, the submissive taker, dirty and pure, loud and silenced, vulnerable and exposed,” Borrison said.

The inspiration for the piece rose from the Borrison’s personal confrontation with how social and sexual standards placed on women affected her ability to establish a sexual identity, she said. Ultimately, Borrison decided she would laugh in the face of her oppressors.

“I encourage all people to laugh, as I chose to, in the faces of those who seek to disempower your quest for self-worth and identity,” she wrote.

Liatris Hethcoat’s piece, “liatris.jpg,” in the Guggenheim gallery. Photo courtesy of Liatris Hethcoat.

Liatris Hethcoat – “liatris.jpg”

In Hethcoat’s artist statement she reports that, according to Social Media Today, 30 percent of all time spent online is now allocated to social media interaction.

This statistic works as a pivotal point for her concept: a large-scale installation of her own Instagram featuring texts, photographs, and other images Hethcoat, a senior studio art major,  had posted dating back to mid-2015. The title, liatris.jpg, is Hethcoat’s username on the application.

The piece is arranged like a homepage grid. The ‘posts’ stapled to 2-by-2 foot wooden panels, spanning the gallery wall in rows of three, continuing down onto the floor, and then moving back up the opposite wall – like a colossal but contorted iPhone.

One post the artist included says, “We’re both doing the same thing, you just think you’re doing something else,” said one. “Bad friends,” another merely states.

One depicts a screenshot of the “Select A Wireless Network” screen where one of the WiFi options is “Holy Spirit.” The photo’s caption reads, “Connecting to God today.”

In physically printing out Instagram work in large format, Hethcoat challenges the exclusive nature of institutionalized art, which favors traditional artistic mediums, and doesn’t typically recognize more accessible digital formats of art.

Each individual panels has a wire fixed to the back so that they can be hung like a painting, poking at capitalist values that institutionalized art perpetuates.

“An artwork that can be hung can be sold; marketability is traditionally a factor in determining the merit and value of an artwork,” Hethcoat writes. “In rendering an intangible artwork as an object, it becomes commercially viable, which in our capitalist economy, translates as ‘real.’”

The piece also explores how social media presence influences personal identity, as users can choose which photos to share or not share publicly, reflected in the blank white panels dispersed throughout the installation. By converting abstract Instagram “posts” into a permanent and physical format, Hethcoat pushes viewers to consider their own engagement with social media and to think critically about how they may use it to inform personal identity.

“I’m pointing to the formation of persona or social self, where we choose to omit certain parts of our being in order to portray ourselves in a given way—whether that be to gain ‘likes,’ or even to distance ourselves from others and fall into obscurity,” Hethcoat wrote.

Senior art major Olivia Graef’s piece, “In Existence,” is a series of four large-scale oil paintings that stand to represent the artist’s experience with finding a sense of belonging. The painting includes a contemporary take on the classic reclining nude. Photo by Madeleine Caraluzzi

Olivia Graef – “In Existence”

Graef’s piece, measuring 6-by-20 feet, is a series of four large-scale oil paintings that stand to represent the artist’s experience with finding a sense of belonging. Graef, a senior art major, incorporated memories from her time living for extended periods in Larkspur, California; Sausalito, California; Orange, California; Paris, France; San Francisco, California; and Florence, Italy.

“The paintings are installed side by side to form a large canvas, altogether depicting a space that is an amalgamation of places, experiences and emotions derived from memory,” she wrote in her artist statement.

The painting, saturated with diverging scenes, textures, shapes and hues, includes a contemporary take on the classic reclining nude – faceless, nearly 20-feet-long, and superimposed so as to be in all the different times and places at once.

“As a senior, I’m in a transient and nostalgic place, and in my process of reminiscing, I went into a rabbit hole of self-reflection and analysis. From there I found that I could attribute certain changes in myself to different locations, its environment, the people there, and the experiences I had,” Graef told the Panther. “I didn’t visually use time, but I was considering how I’ve developed through time and from year to year, and in what contexts those changes occurred.

Graef said she used a digitally-created collage as a reference point, “but physically painted from my impressions and memories.”

“The juxtaposition of figurative and literal representations emphasizes the disjointed emotional state that results from moving home by recognizing that fragments of important pieces are clearly remembered, but the entire place itself is more of a vague dream,” she wrote.

Junior art major Haley Hopkins’ “it’s fake in real life” explores the artificial nature of synthetic borders and boundaries and their unstable nature, using found and created objects such as a pile of bricks and cinder blocks, two metal poles and a paper chain-linked fence. Photo by Madeleine Caraluzzi

Haley Hopkins –“it’s fake in real life”

In the piece “Borders,” Hopkins, a junior studio art major, explores the artificial nature of synthetic borders and boundaries and their unstable nature.

Using found and created objects to construct the work, each material contrasts in texture and weight: a pile of bricks and cinderblocks, two long metal poles and a fragile paper chain-linked fence meticulously carved by hand with an X-ACTO knife.

“The boundary commands respect not with strength, but with ambiguity and the general unspoken agreement, or arguably fear, that if they are challenged they will completely deteriorate, and how taboo that would be. You do not challenge the fence because it would not be a fair fight, instead, you inadvertently relinquish your rights to it,” Hopkins wrote.

Hopkins said she isn’t just referring to geographical boundaries, but emotional ones as well. To her, the concept of borders and their boundaries will always reside in an ambiguous state.

“A dissonance will always exist between the intangible construct of a border and what we physically do to represent it The border, a construct, cannot decide what it is and what it is not. Does it keep in or keep out? I’m interested in how, whether they be emotional or political, borders manifest themselves physically and what that means.”

Emma Foss’ junior art show piece, “Skin.”
Photo by Madeleine Caraluzzi.

Emma Foss – “Casing”

In reference to meat casings, containers used to shape sausages and packed meats, Foss’s piece explores the many connotations of humankind’s own casing – the skin.

“The skin embodies many nuanced meanings including protection or delicacy with thick or thin skinned people, a direct reflection of someone’s beauty, and when removed, a discarded or disgusting entity,” Foss, a junior studio art major, wrote in her artist statement. “I attempted to play with these meanings and present my own ideas about skin as a painful barrier that’s constructed to protect oneself and to falsify the world’s perception of individuals.”

Using Modge Podge glue, Foss made 33 plastic “skin” casings from various parts of her body. Foss documented the removal process of an abdominal layer in the three showcased photographs. Beneath the photographs hung 32 pieces of flimsy plastic skin.

“Removing the layer of what society projects onto individuals, and what they protect themselves with, can be an incredibly painful process, as evidenced by the photos. It’s not clean, not easy nor quick, but undergoing it unsheathes a new layer of self,” said Foss.

Foss’s photographs are so hyper-focused it’s almost as if you’re watching her in real time slowly peeling the glue back from her skin.

“Because I’m using my own body, I’ve allowed the viewer to see parts of me that are incredibly intimate and revealing, like the texture of my skin.” Foss writes. “I invite them into my personal dialogue with self-image, sexuality, and society’s expectations, and hope to make them question the skin in which they present themselves, and what it would take to remove it.”

Junior art major Alison Pirie’s “Popped Cherry,” a three-and-a-half-minute video art piece that portrays her dressed in a phallic, skin-toned suit and confined to a small red-pink room covered in red balloons. Photo by Madeleine Caraluzzi

Alison Pirie – “Popped Cherry”

“Popped Cherry” refers to the euphemism for a woman losing her virginity, a cherry signifying the hymen. Pirie’s three and a half minute video art piece portrays herself dressed in a phallic skin-toned suit and confined to a small red-pink room covered in red balloons.

“I created an environment that alludes to the inside of a vagina in order to visually manifest the phrase ‘Popping Cherries,” Pirie, a junior studio art major,  wrote in her artist statement.

Throughout the video, she alternates between actions such as violently popping the cherry juice-filled balloons, streaming whipped cream onto her mouth and body, and writhing in the cherry-blood-whipped-cream mess that she has created.

“My work caricatures society, embodying the absurdities in our constructed views on gender and sexuality and I’ve found that humor is a powerful tool for making taboo subjects digestible and creating a more open dialogue for them to be discussed,” she said.

Through her piece, Pirie said she hopes to emphasize the absurdity of the phrase “popping cherries” and expose the societal expectations surrounding the hymen in general.

“My work draws from common tropes in pop culture imagery and language that are used to fetishize and repress the female identity. The hymen is an evolutionary mystery and a cultural myth. It has no known biological function. Society has assigned a value to it,”  Pirie wrote. “By translating [the tropes] visually my goal is to subvert their message.”

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