Artist Index
Site Map

The Feminist Figure
The Creative Path
Domestic Affairs
Domestic Affairs
Women in Art
Visions of Life
Back Next

ART: On Dealing With the Issue of Identity

By Helen A. Harrison

As if to counter the fear that civilization is less and less attuned to the individual's voice, many artists use the personal exposé as a device that fuses esthetic self-expression with a desire to communicate on the human level.

The 16 artists whose works are included deal specifically with the issue of identity. Although all of them are female, sexual identity is only one of the factors that motivates the psychological explorations. The show makes an interesting complement to the Hillwood Gallery's "Original Sin," which this writer discussed last week. There, culturally imposed attitudes toward women as a group are examined; here, sex is treated as one among several factors that determine how we become who we are.

Home Page


Far more important, in fact, is the realization that selfhood is shaped by a complex combination of influences, including ethnic background, family expectations, personal relationships, social and cultural norms and private goals. Formative experiences are, therefore, a principal theme. Another is racial heritage, and a third is the struggle of the individual to overcome repressive influences.

Aviva Rahmani uses her art as a form of catharsis, in which she comes to terms with an abusive father. Her "Requiem" project is a meditation on love and forgiveness. In an affecting photo montage, Ms. Rahmani internalizes her father's image, implying acknowledgment of their blood bond. It also asserts her power to forgive, thereby freeing herself from the burden of hatred.

The parental bond is touchingly expressed in Grace Graupe-Pillard's cutout pastel "Portrait of My Parents." The couple is shown inside a silhouette of a lone man in whose outline we see flying cranes, symbols of fidelity. The pictures speaks of loss and loneliness, but also of consolation to be found in memory, with the artists as the agent who mediates between past and future.

The conventionalized self, as defined by outside forces and the expectations of others, is the subject of Ms. Yerman's group portrait. Parents and siblings are treated as smooth two-dimensional figures, but are surrounded by allegorical clues to character. Halos framing the parent's heads give them saintly overtones. Flaming ruins behind a brother and sister allude to the Holocaust as a background to present-day family unity. Another sister seems lost in an exotic daydream indicated by a primitive mask behind her figure. Perhaps this is her attempt to escape the strong forces of her Jewish heritage that now bind the family together.

Yong Soon Min's "Back of the Bus" indicates even more directly how the past must be reckoned with. The drawing based on a snapshot of her mother and aunt in their native Korea, shows two American G.I.'s starring in apparent curiosity at the two women. At the bottom of the picture, the artist turns to stare out at us, returning the gaze instead of avoiding it, as her relatives did. She dares to confront the curious, to meet the alien culture head on, as she must do every day in her adopted land.

Diosa Summers deals with the problem of feeling alien in one's own country. A Choctaw Indian, she delves into the rich tradition of the Ghost Dance and other Indian rituals, drawing sustenance from them and perpetuating their magic as a tool for survival. Her clay masks are designed not as disguises but rather as embodiments of ancient forces that empower the wearer. Her personal desire to be in touch with suppressed holistic tradition impels her to try to share its wisdom and insights with a contemporary audience.

In "Daughter-Right," Maria Epes has created a private talisman to guide in the establishment of a female persona. The small, delicately crafted fetish, with its references to birth and nurturing, affirms the lineage from mother to child as a positive, life-giving destiny that this woman embraces gladly,

The effort to find an individual path in life is the subject of Michele Godwin's two untitled monotypes. In one, a figure gropes her way amid a tangle of choking vegetation; in the other, she emerges into a clearing that glows with the blue of an unclouded sky. Her way to fulfillment now seems clear.

Similarly, Janet Goldner symbolizes the journey toward self-realization as emergence from a vessel that could be a sanctuary or a trap. The classic "gilded cage" is equipped with ladders for climbing in or out, depending on the individual's own aspirations.


Back to Top

Artist | Curator | Site Map | Writer | Contact | Home