Transforming Feminisms

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"Big Attitude" by Bronwyn M. Towle is part of the Transforming Feminisms exhibition at the South Bay Contemporary Gallery. Courtesy Photo
“Big Attitude” by Bronwyn M. Towle is part of the Transforming Feminisms exhibition at the South Bay Contemporary Gallery. Courtesy Photo”Big Attitude” by Bronwyn M. Towle is part of the Transforming Feminisms exhibition at the South Bay Contemporary Gallery. Courtesy Photo

By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

South Bay Contemporary Gallery continues their series of outstanding exhibitions with a new show titled, Transforming Feminisms, a group show featuring 29 artists.

Addressing the many stages and definitions of feminism, gallery owner and curator Peggy Zask has again demonstrated a clear vision for her art space, formerly known as Zask Gallery.

Organized feminism began in the Western world in the mid 19th century and has gone through three waves.
Although it developed out of the anti-slavery movement, first-wave feminism was oriented around the station of middle- or upper-class white women. It involved suffrage and political equality. In the 20th century, second-wave feminism attempted to further combat social and cultural inequalities. Now, third-wave feminism continues to address the financial, social and cultural inequalities, adding a renewed campaigning for the greater influence of women in politics and media.

The exhibition is a strong display of ‘intersectional feminism.’ The term, which Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined, states that “women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”

“There is a third movement of feminism that is focusing more on global issues,” Zask said. “The right to choose, equal pay and abuse are the three topics that have not been resolved.”

The artists participating in this exhibit represent almost every aspect of American culture and society: Jewish, African-American, Chinese, Samoan, Latina, male, female and transgender. All come together to offer their definition of feminism.

The timely topics that Zask has chosen are as much by fate as by choice. Our news is full of horrific stories of domestic violence around the globe. Women and children are murdered on the street and in their own homes on a daily basis. In 2012 the story of Malia Yousafzai, shot on a school bus in Pakistan, inspired the women’s movement globally.

Recent reports of NFL player Ray Rice’s assault on his fiancee and Adrian Petersons disturbing punishment of his 4-year-old child have brought domestic violence into the public discussion of culture and abuse. The U.S. Supreme Court’s questionable decision in the case of Hobby Lobby’s protest to provide birth control for employees affirmed the ongoing controversy over reproductive rights, 58 years after the development of the pill. All of these things are reminders that the struggle continues.

“I am a curator who goes into territory, which is not clear or may be in flux and change,” said Zask, defining her role. ”In contemporary art, I do not begin to think my perspective or knowledge is more important and do not want to influence the artists, only help them to express their ideas on the subject … the answers and nature of the exhibition is what the artists create.”

A series of questions were sent to all the artists participating in the exhibit, in an effort to ensure that each artist speaks for themselves. The list of questions included:
 Your personal definition of feminism
 Your personal definition of power
 Your personal definition of agency
 Why you identify, or do not identify as a feminist

The responses are as varied as the individual artists.

Video artist Yoshie Sakai, says she is an ‘undercover feminist.’ Her video is about her Japanese-American family, who was in an internment camp during World War ll. Years later, her family ended up owning a liquor store. The family’s patriarch insisted that a male heir take over KOKO’s Liquor Store.

Hatsuko Mary Higuchi’s art also visits her family’s history of internment during the war. Her watercolor, “Sayonara Oksan,” is a deeply personal collage of the generation that chose to remain silent and rebuild their lives following their release from the internment camp. Higuchi was imprisoned, along with her entire family at the age of three. Upon reentry to American life, she never heard the topic addressed in school or at home. Women are credited in her paintings with an extraordinary and unsung role for keeping the families together during and after they were released from the internment camps.

“Mary’s mission is to bring it out, to talk about it,” Zask said.

Painter Bronwyn M. Towle submits a full-figured nude titled, “Big Attitude,” epitomizing a large confident woman. Towle is a third-generation Chinese-American and a feminist. Disturbing stories from China of the abandonment of female children due to the One Child Law influenced Towle. Families would leave female infants to die under trees, preferring a male child to perpetuate the family name.

Artist Anna Rodriguez went from the small community of Maywood, Calif. to earn a masters degree in fine arts from Otis College of Art and Design. As a first generation Mexican-American she observed the differences in the choices available to her versus her female cousins growing up in Mexico. She defines power as the determination to follow your own path without the interferences of others. Feminism is being able to look back in time and appreciate the struggle and fight for what is yet to be done, she said.

A few of the artists state that they do not identify as feminists, but rather see a world where respect and human rights exist equally for all people.

Zask noted that the the original concept for the exhibition was about women’s identity, not feminism. In the discussion they concluded that the third wave of feminism has changed the way women view their needs and priorities.

“As I began talking to the artists involved, I realized that feminism means simply believing in yourself as a woman” said Zask. “I have never identified as a feminist either. The whole idea for the title ‘Transforming Feminisms’ came from the discussions we had before the exhibit.”

Many of the artists noted that the reality of women in the arts is that needs to represent their lives. The challenges women in the arts face is similar to challenges women face in almost any profession. Marriage, family and child rearing often interfere with professional development, and that brings with it the whole package of gender discrimination.

The voices calling for an end to the oppression of women around the globe have become impossible to ignore. In the exhibition catalog Christy Roberts Berkowitz quotes Schumacher, a member of the Russian music group Pussy Riot: “There are two reasons why we frighten people. The first thing is that we’re a feminist, female group with no men connected to it, and the second is that we don’t have leaders… Russia has always linked the idea of leadership with some man or other, who can control things, and control women.”

South Bay Contemporary will be hosting a round-table discussion for artists in the exhibition who will be discussing women’s issues in our global culture and how art plays a role in expression of these issues and ideas. Audience questions and participation will be invited. A discussion with the artists in the exhibit is scheduled for Sat., Oct. 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. The talk will be moderated by feminist scholar, Catherine Scott.

Peggy Zask will be moving her South Bay Contemporary Gallery from Palos Verdes to The Loft Gallery space in downtown San Pedro at the beginning of 2015. A non-profit has been formed to support her vision of engaging the community in the relevance of contemporary art. This is exciting news for downtown San Pedro as we look forward to her vibrant exhibition schedule participating in the First Thursday Art Walk.
Details: Transforming Feminism
Venue: South Bay Contemporary Gallery
Location: 550 Deep Valley Drive, #261, Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274

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