Featured image: Brooke Grucella’s “Walking on Glass.” Photo by Deborah Ross
When I first saw “Push Comes to Shove: Women and Power” at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, it was during the opening reception. I flitted through the all-female group exhibition — which addresses women’s status from political, social and cultural perspectives — and admired the empowering messages. October 14 was the date, and I was on a Hillary Clinton high.
Yesterday’s return trip — not so ebullient, for obvious reasons. But I decided to look at each work anew through various lenses that focus on women’s strengths, at a time when they so desperately need to be reaffirmed.
The first lens is political power, as embodied in Brooke Grucella’s “Walking on Glass” (2016), a street-art-style gathering of faces — Clinton, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others — where text about seeking the “throne,” or executive seat, of power blazes across shattered glass. Nearby is Forrest Solis’s “The Table” (2016), where a quote that rallies women to take their seat at the proverbial table is engraved into a real wooden table, which also bears a hyperrealistic painting of the artist’s resting hands. Also nearby is a small enclosure with a looped video of narratives from Gloria Feldt, Kyrsten Sinema, Barbara Barrett, Rebecca White Berch and Diane Enos — five influential women with Arizona ties who spoke to Muriel Magenta’s class at Arizona State University at various times in 2015. The talks were the impetus for “Push Comes to Shove,” which Magenta, a longtime art and intermedia professor, co-curated with SMoCA.
The second lens I thought about is female identity as it’s conveyed in mental and emotional strength, if not physical strength. One of the standout displays in “Push Comes to Shove” is a grouping of three oversized chromogenic prints (2016) by M. Jenea Sanchez. Portraits of three women from a farming collective in the border town of Agua Prieta, Mexico, radiate grit, determination and self-reliance. The collective makes adobe bricks, and examples of those bricks form a nearby half-wall, where Sanchez and Gabriela Muñoz have installed “Labor” (2016), with its outlines of the Mexican women’s faces placed on the bricks with serigraphs.
Moving farther into the exhibition, I looked up at Siri Devi Khandavilli’s installation “Push Comes to Shove” (2016), with its stringed bangles and Plexiglas discs hanging from the ceiling in a luscious, deep-red cascade, and thought about a third lens — female sensuality. Isn’t much of our power through our sexual energy and ability to bear children? Interestingly, the 101 discs are all cracked, in another reference to the needed shattering of glass ceilings.
The messages about female identity and political/social transformation mingle with each other throughout the show, which features 19 artists. One of my favorites is Patricia Clark’s “Ascending the Staircase” (2016), a three-channel video that references the staircase from a famous Duchamp painting while collaging together images and text about women’s progress toward equality.
But as I stepped into the video enclosure showing Malena Barnhart’s “The YouTube Feminist Discourse” (2014), I quickly realized that even though art shows about women and power are vital, their themes often hit brick walls of misogyny and misconceptions. Using satire, Barnhart edits together snippets of video monologues in which women and men denounce feminism, sometimes in the crudest fashion.
Here’s hoping art can continue to help change the discourse in this post-election phase of disbelief and apprehension. My official “Woman Card” from the Hillary campaign is resting above my desk. Can I still play it?
“Push Comes to Shove: Women and Power” runs through January 8, 2017.