Women may be 50% of the population, but their collective voice may be 25% of the conversation, at best. Although the expectations that women have for themselves and that society has about them have come a long way from the nineteenth century, women are still disproportionately victims of violence, in poverty, overlooked for that promotion, paid less, expected to do more, etc. Honestly, I am angry and I have been for quite sometime which is why the best part of my ISA Assets Conference in Houston was meeting Karin Broker. She’s angry too and uses her art to effectively express gender violence and disparity. In short, Karin is bad ass.
So Sophia, who is this new friend of yours?
Oh, I wish! I totally want to hang with her.
Karin Broker is a master printer, artist, activist, critic and raconteur from Houston, Texas. She taught for over 40 years at Rice University and ran their incredible print program and studio. Karin’s own artwork and expertise in the art of print making are undeniably amazing, and yet when it came time to give out an endowed chair at Rice, it went to a man, despite her years of experience, mentoring, and the numerous museums and galleries that display her work.
For the record, neither Karin nor I hate men. In fact, we are both happily married to really good men, but we both hate bad men and what they do to women. And since there are a lot of bad men, this does translate into how society views women. Let’s be clear, it’s not a men problem; it’s a bad men problem, but too many bad men are allowed to run amok and actually run things.
In her work, Karin looks at stereotypes, violence, women’s bodies, burdens. We had the really distinct privilege of spending a morning with Karin at the Print Palace at Rice, and then she opened her home and studio to us that evening where we got to see a lot of her work and hear what is behind her work.
Karin specializes in drawings, prints and sculptures. Her sculptures are built our of found objects, like dolls, sewing needles, bullets and pistols. There is this twisted Victorian sensibility that pokes at the enduring cult of domesticity surrounding women.
Karin’s newest work addresses “the larger issues of family violence and sexual abuse towards women. Besides the horrific acts of rape and murder many women have and continue to face on a daily basis across this planet I hope my work in even the smallest way demands a clearer picture of the achievements, suffering and bravery of my gender that has been overlooked, forgotten, trod upon or lied about throughout history. My small voice becomes ever more-shrill with each piece I produce and my hope is that my screams give strength to those within hearing range.”
You can read more about Karin and her work on her website at https://www.karinbroker.com.
And then there’s Artemisia….
On the second day the of conference, we went to the MFA Houston to tour the American decorative arts and paintings collection, but after lunch, we had some free time to explore the museum. If you are anywhere near Houston by April 16th, go to the MFA Houston to see the Gentileschi and the Wiley! Here’s the website: https://www.mfah.org/exhibitions/portrait-of-courage-gentileschi-wiley-story-of-judith.
In a very imaginative juxtaposition, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes is hung opposite Kehinde Wiley’s Judith and Holofernes: two paintings on the same subject, painted 400 years apart.
Wiley’s Judith is triumphant, after the fact, looking down at the viewer, victorious, on a lush tapestry of bright flowers.
Gentileschi’s Judith is violent, in the act of severing Holofernes head, blood spurting; her muscles tensed as she holds him down and slices his neck. Of all the many renderings of this subject, Artemisia’s is the most violent. Holofernes is awake and fighting off the attack. Judith is grim with determination, because she is killing her rapist. When Artemisia did this painting in 1612-13, she had been raped, and bravely accused her rapist and yet she was put on trial for seven months. She was angry.
Gentileschi’s Judith is a very famous painting. I had studied it before, but had never seen it in person. Of course, I knew that the artist was a survivor of rape, but seeing that painting the day after seeing Karin Broker’s work and talking with her about her work and her anger, made see this painting in a new light. Artemisia’s anger is palpable and bubbles through the canvas.
We have to listen to women’s voices. We have something to say.
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