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Celebrating women, politics and place
Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976) Behind every great man…, 1979/2015, 2015 Chromogenic print The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Celebrating women, politics and place

An upcoming Frost Art Museum exhibition commemorates the 19th Amendment.

August 18, 2020 at 1:30pm

On August 18, 1920, women in the United States gained the right to vote. A century later, women's access to equity in the social and political spheres continues to be at the forefront of the popular consciousness, especially with the growing visibility of women as elected leaders.

In celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Frost Art Museum is launching House to House: Women, Politics, and Place. Opening on Sept. 26., the show examines the metaphor of two houses: the domestic space women have dominated for hundreds of years and the public, political space where their voices are increasingly heard. These varied spaces—from the home to beauty salons, factories, courtrooms and more—are illustrated in the multimedia exhibition. Chief curator Amy Galpin offers thoughts on this timely exhibition.

Why is the exhibition so crucial at this moment in American history?
Much attention is centered around the 100-year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, but that’s not the only reason why we are presenting this exhibition. Certainly the anniversary is a cause for reflection on how some women, largely white women, gained the right to vote and how racism and voter suppression, which remain major issues today, prevented all women from voting. This exhibition was also planned because of the presidential election in 2020 and because of the record number of women elected to office in 2018. It’s an important moment to think about women in relationship to politics and place.

A considerable number of objects in this exhibition address the domestic space. How have women navigated home? How has the home been oppressive for some and a safe space for others? Given the attention to #MeToo movement and changes to Title IX, what does it mean to consider and reconsider women’s agency and navigation of different spaces?

Can you highlight a few pieces and explain why you chose them?
There are two anchors in the exhibition, a photograph by Catherine Opie and a photograph by Deborah Willis. Catherine Opie’s photograph is an iconic image. Opie has stated that she photographs political landscapes. Here, the landscape is her own home and her son, Oliver. The bright and inviting natural light and the tender child wearing a tutu evoke nostalgia and celebrate a fleeting moment of family life.

Deborah Willis is one of the first artists that I thought of when creating this exhibition. She is a renowned curator and photo historian, and her Reflections in Black is required reading. I’ve always been drawn to her photographs of beauty shops, a source for community, debate, fun and therapy. Willis’s photograph of artist Carrie Mae Weems in a beauty shop in Eastonville, a historic Black community, felt essential to the exhibition. [Editor's note: The Frost Art Museum will host an online talk by Willis as part of its Steven & Dorothea Green Crticis' Lecture Series at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17.]

What are your feelings on gender equality as it relates to American politics?
I think often about how women who run for office and those who are ultimately elected are spoken about and judged. The terms used to describe women’s personalities, physical appearance and achievements are not the same used to describe men. We are seeing unprecedented numbers of women running for office and that’s exciting—as well as Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian American candidates that are challenging the status quo.

It’s not that I just want to see a woman as president, because I need to understand a candidate’s positions first. I think, however, we should all consider why there has never been a woman president or vice president in the U.S. What are the factors that have hindered the election of a woman president in the U.S. that have not hindered Germany, New Zealand and Chile?

Who are some FIU alumnae and Miami artists represented in the show?
There are two FIU alumnae represented in the exhibition, Peggy Nolan and Aurora Molina. Getting to know Peggy and learning about her practice has been an incredibly special experience for me. Peggy’s technical acumen coupled with a searing eye for detail and intimacy make for great pictures.

Aurora Molina is an artist and activist, and I am incredibly honored to work with her on this exhibition and humbled by the large-scale installation that she is making for the exhibition. I reached out to her very early in the process of creating the exhibition as I knew her approach to her practice could make for a dynamic juxtaposition with other work in the show. Aurora has brilliantly engaged the Miami community in creation of mandalas for the exhibition and combines them with imagery inspired by the Women’s Marches that occurred across the US in January 2017.

Other Miami artists represented in the show are Octavia Yearwood, who produced Tranz Forum, and Rosemarie Chiarlone. Jamilah Sabur is an artist that I often return to and whose practice challenges me and sustains me intellectually and creatively. Her work in this show is inspired by an architectural element in the home where her mother was raised in Jamaica. The artist often returns to the rhombus, and the shape is present here.

What do you hope people will take away?
I always hope, from any show, that someone might learn something new, that their curiosity might be peaked, that they might understand someone else’s perspective in a new way and they might reflect on a work or artist after seeing the exhibition. The tone and texture of these experiences are for the visitor to determine.

The Frost Art Museum is temporarily closed, but exhibitions and programs can be experienced virtually here.