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Art plays a vital role in telling women’s stories and speaking truth to power. But it was not so long ago that women faced huge obstacles in becoming professional artists or attending art schools that placed bans and quotas on female students.
And while women have accomplished a lot in our fight for equal opportunity and pay, both inside and outside the art world, there is still much to be done. According to studies posted by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, female artists in the United States, on average, earn 74 cents for every dollar made by male artists. These numbers are even worse for older women and artists of color. And the vast majority of museum exhibitions and art acquisitions continues to be of work made by white men.
Women’s History Month offers a good opportunity to shed light on these realities and showcase art made by women about women’s experiences. Here is a partial list (of the many events) of some of this compelling visual art on view locally.
The Vashon Center for the Arts has dedicated its gallery to a collection of shows titled “On the Shoulders of Women.” Gallery director Lynann Politte says that celebrating Women’s History Month and the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, provide a focus, “giving us the time to reflect back on who came before us and honor our inspirational and activist ancestors. Because of them, we can do what we can do. We can persist and create and express ourselves during this intense political time.”
In one show, titled “Julie Thurber: Dirty Laundry and Other Women’s Work,” artist Thurber alters vintage undergarments as a way to uncover the hidden histories of women’s daily lives. In the “Women’s Wisdom Project,” Anna Brones creates intricate, cut paper portraits of 100 inspiring women: figures like Coretta Scott King, the civil rights leader, and Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian in the New York Public Library system.
In the last VCA show, titled “29th Street Women,” Pacific Northwest artists Shannon Amidon, Barb Burwell, Pamela Chipman, Kim Lakin and Kirista Trask pay homage to an earlier group of female artists, the Ninth Street Women, who tackled abstraction in mid-20th century New York, where big, gestural painting was often equated with masculinity. The five women in the VCA exhibit not only draw inspiration from their predecessors — Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler — they support each other in a monthly critique group at Chipman’s studio on Northwest 29th Street in Portland.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, noon-4 p.m. Saturdays, through March 28; Vashon Center for the Arts, 19600 Vashon Highway S.W., Vashon Island; free; 206-463-5131, vashoncenterforthearts.org
Up at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, Holly Ballard Martz’s show titled “Domestic Bliss” reveals the underbelly of gendered domesticity. Martz — who was included in a recent Artnet list of “12 Fierce Feminist Artists” — has a knack for transforming found materials into new, highly symbolic forms. Here, cast-iron ironing trays morph into religious relics, while a hanger covered with beaded floral fabric becomes a stand-in for the female pelvis.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays-Mondays, through May 25; San Juan Islands Museum of Art, 540 Spring St., Friday Harbor, San Juan Island; $10 adults, free for youths 18 and under; 360-370-5050, sjima.org
In Seattle’s Central District, Wa Na Wari clusters small exhibitions of work by artists, including Lavett Ballard, whose textural, mixed-media, often large-scale work foregrounds issues of power and beauty within the histories of people of African descent. According to her artist statement, Ballard has created “a visual lexicon of African American, female, self-identity” by “compiling a photographic catalog of female images that cover the African diaspora over different geographic areas and historical periods.”
5-8 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through May 10; Wa Na Wari, 911 24th Ave., Seattle; free; wanawari.org
ZINC contemporary in Pioneer Square presents paintings by Seattle-based artist Jennifer Ament that, according to the gallery’s statement, “comment on Ament’s experience with feminism online and the often misconstrued realities of the digital world.” These paintings — which engage with themes of illusion and identity — mark a bold new direction for the artist who has previously worked in print and encaustic.
10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through March 21; ZINC contemporary, 119 Prefontaine Place S., Seattle; free; 206-617-5775, zinccontemporary.com
ARTS at King Street Station hosts a poignant exhibition titled “The American War,” in which artists Pao Houa Her and Sadie Wechsler create and gather photographic and video works that, according to the exhibition statement, “expose the legacy and residue that remains in Southeast Asia and the United States in the aftermath of what is known stateside as the Vietnam War.” The artists frequently focus on the stories of women in order to address a lack of representation within typical accounts of that era.
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through March 21; ARTS at King Street Station, 303 S. Jackson St., Top Floor, Seattle; free; seattle.gov/arts/programs/arts-at-king-street-station
Last but not least, the Seattle Art Museum has a one-room powerhouse of a show of Georgia O’Keeffe’s art. The exhibition of 17 paintings and drawings highlights “Music, Pink and Blue, No. 1,” which, according to the museum, was O’Keeffe’s first major oil painting and “the first complete expression of O’Keeffe’s personal brand of modernism.” This painting (a recent gift from the late Barney Ebsworth) is surrounded by earlier and later works (mostly on loan from museums across the country), demonstrating the now-legendary artist’s intrepid and lyrical experiments in abstraction.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays, through June 28; Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., Seattle; ticket prices up to $29.99; 206-654-3100, seattleartmuseum.org
In addition to the exhibitions, here is a talk highlighting women artists this month:
“American Neoclassical Sculptresses in Rome”: Art history talk with arts lecturer Rebecca Albiani. 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 25; Vashon Center for the Arts, 19600 Vashon Highway S.W., Vashon Island; $10 in advance, $15 at the door, $5 for youth; 206-463-5131, vashoncenterforthearts.org