Exhibition Review: Displacement: Women's Journeys
By Ilana Jael
Collage is a prominent form at Ceres Gallery’s new mixed media exhibition, Displacement: Women's Journey, curated by Pauline Chernichaw and Aldara Ortega and on view until this February 24th. This seems quite appropriate, given that the show itself is a kind of collage, an arresting gathering of diverse art produced by women from wildly different ethnic, cultural, and social backgrounds. Yet all of the work orbits with admirable cohesion around the titular theme of women worldwide and their expansive struggles in a patriarchal society where both their pain and personhood are routinely overlooked, as acknowledged by featured artist Alice Harrison in “Losing The Brass Ring”, which shows a sculpture of that oft-unreachable prize, representing “liberation”, set against a dismal flowery backdrop.
In many of these works, the artists repurpose images and their assumed meanings into expressions of their complex ancestral landscapes or political ideologies. Aldara Ortega depicts the ability of subjugated peoples to rise above their surroundings by digitally transporting a woman from “an unpleasing underwater environment” into one that is “pristine, open, peaceful, and ideal”, while Elizabeth Rundquist’s “Will We Ever Know Her Name” draws attention to a “nameless displaced woman” pictured in the New York Times by placing her picture amidst a sinisterly swirling painted background.
Often, country, continent and generation-spanning migratory journeys are poignantly translated from fragmented abstract histories into tangible, bound works. One such piece, “Lost In The City” by Nancy Nickal, depicts the artist’s disorienting childhood move to New York City by setting a disjointed representation of her younger self against a similarly spasmodic backdrop. Another eye-catching three-dimensional piece by Ruth Bauer Neustadter, entitled “Steerage”, gives new life to photos of the women in her family, refugees from Nazi Germany, and their successful passage into Ellis Island. Hers is one of a handful of featured works that explore the Holocaust’s devastating impact. Covering similar ground is “Ich bin geboren in einem Vertriebenen Lager (I was born in a Displaced Persons Camp)” by Pauline Chernichaw, which sets her own family photos amidst unsteady drips of deep red to evoke the bloodiness of her war-torn history.
The artists also frequently harness their respective gifts to explore their distinctly feminine priorities. For example, children and motherhood is another recurring motif. In “Long Walk To Water” by Dare Boles, African mothers carry children across an ominous earth toned scene-scape. Grace Matthews grapples with her daughter’s heroin addiction in the haunting and surreal “A Mother’s Love”. Teacher Ellen Denuto reflects on her sense of alienation with an eerily yellowed picture featuring a “Baby Doll” left on her desk by one of her students.
While you may emerge somewhat disoriented after taking in such an intense cacophony of externalized “journeys” as this exhibit brings its viewers, you will not likely emerge untouched. These gifted women allow us the chance to step out of our own experiences and globalize our thinking, a chance that is not in good conscience to be missed.