In 1972, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, co-founders of the California Institue of the Arts Feminist Arts Program, put together a collaborative feminist art exhibition called Womanhouse, which provided a foothold for feminist art throughout Los Angeles. Almost 40 years later, a group of 12 women on LMU's campus have come together in an effort to recreate the original Womanhouse project, but with their own personal, contemporary twist. Centered around the societal pressures and issues that women face in today's world, LMU's "Womynhouse" exhibit is a deeply personal exploration of what it means to be a woman in today's society.
The new exhibit's name, "Womynhouse," is something of a double entendre. It plays on the phrase "my house," alluding to Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" and the title of the original project.
"What does every artist need? A space of one's own, a place where they can do art," said senior art history major Amanda Courtney, also an exhibition curator and collaborator. The name also references the original Womanhouse project in more ways than one: The 1972 exhibition was put together using rooms in an abandoned Los Angeles mansion. Quite literally, each artist was given a room of her own and therefore the space with which to do what she envisioned.
Though LMU lacks the space to give each of the 12 artists a room of her own, the exhibition's setup reflects that idea of personal space. It features individualized displays from each of the 12 women who participated in the project, drawing inspiration both from the 1970s Womanhouse project and from more contemporary issues of body image and sexual pressure. "A lot of the issues that the original Womanhouse women were dealing with are definitely overlapped," Courtney said. "There are certain layers that overlap, but there are also new stories, because we're a whole new generation."
Out of all of the art history subjects to draw inspiration from, it was the Los Angeles feminist art movement that caught Courtney's attention. Having taken a class on art in Los Angeles, Courtney found herself more and more interested in creating something that was representative of both her identity as a feminist and the rich history of the Los Angeles art scene. "Feminist art grew out of the L.A. art schools, and so I think it's appropriate to bring something like that onto this campus," she said.
Despite being something of a figurehead of "Womynhouse," Courtney is very clear about the fact that this project - like the original Womanhouse project - is a collaborative effort. "Feminist art is based on this collaboration," she said. "A lot of L.A. art history is like that."
That collaboration is reflected in the setup of the exhibition itself. The gallery is split into separate installations, each one reflecting a particular issue of interest to one of the women participating in the project. The images are very reflective of the 1970s feminist movement, but at the same time they are very personal. One collaborative installation, from senior fine arts major Erin Mallea and senior English major Kenzie O'Keefe (also editor in chief of the Loyolan) is a bathroom stall equipped with a sound system and headphones that allows gallery visitors to listen in on conversations between all 12 of the women about sexuality, body image and other issues related to contemporary womanhood. Another installation, put together by senior film production and studio arts double major Jessica Csanky, is focused on breast cancer in homage both to her late mother and to the women whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer.
However, the small and deeply personal things are not the only issues addressed in the "Womynhouse" exhibit; the women have sought to address feminist issues on a broader scale as well. Senior studio arts and art history double major Chin Onglatco, whose hometown is Cebu City in the Philippines, has created an installation that addresses the experience of being a woman in a very Catholic country, while senior psychology and studio arts double major Arielle Saturné has created a semi-performance piece dedicated to sex trafficking and prostitution.
"It exposed us a lot," Saturné said about the unapologetic intimacy of the exhibition. But when asked if she was worried about allowing others to see so much of herself in her art, Saturné said that the exposure is what "makes it genuine. Vulnerability is something that we all have." She maintains that the intimacy of the artistic experience is what makes the experience important, forcing the audience to reconstruct ideas and come to terms with the important messages that the artists are trying to send.
"We want to bring the conversation into the gallery, but we also want to start a new conversation," Mallea said. "It's specific to our experiences, but we also bring in some larger themes."
Courtney agreed. "If people don't come, then they don't come, and they're scared," she said. "And I hope that fear will prompt some self-reflection."
"Womynhouse" opens on Thursday, Oct. 20, and will run until Friday, Nov. 11 in the Thomas P. Kelly Student Art Gallery. There is no admission fee, and the gallery is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, check out the "Womynhouse" website at womynhouse.blogspot.com.