Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
When considering the art of the afterlife, the embrace of metaphor usually aids in understanding. Yet, in the art of ancient Egypt, some things are just as they seem. In the land of pyramids and pharaohs, the afterlife was believed to mirror life on Earth. Food, drink, clothes, furniture and servants, sometimes real, sometimes in effigy, were packed into tombs, to provide for all the eternal needs of the deceased. Beloved pets were often buried in the family tombs of owners, giving new meaning to the concept of “forever homes.”
Recent excavations in Egypt have uncovered massive ancient cemeteries for animals. Both domestic and wild animals were buried with respect and consideration, reflecting the important roles they played in society. Through January 21st, 30 rare examples of mummified animals dating back to 3,000 B.C., along with some 65 related objects, are on view in the Brooklyn Museum’s thoughtful and thought-provoking “Soulful Creatures,” curated by Edward Bleiberg, Yekaterina Barbash and Lisa Bruno.
A corn mummy from the Ptolemaic period, made in the form of Osiris, symbolized renewal and rejuvenation.
Mystery, dignity and emotion fill the exhibit’s galleries. It’s touching to see the way a long-past society readily accepted the concept that animals possessed souls, just as people do. It was the exception; the curators point out that contemporary societies in Greece and Rome didn’t share this belief, even though, in the ancient world, animal life and human life were inseparable. Ancient Egyptians had thriving societies and comfortable homes, while, just outside, animals were farmed, the Nile was filled with fish and waterfowl, and the fields were plowed by creatures more powerful than men. It was natural for them to see animals as helpers and to acknowledge that harmonious co-existence was beneficial.
Cats were beloved pets and goddesses in ancient Egypt, worthy of mummification to ensure eternal life.
Animals were also allies in interceding with the ancient Egyptian gods. Some of the mummified creatures in the exhibition were meant as offerings to deities, or to carry messages to powerful supernatural beings like Thoth, who took the form of an ibis, or Horus, the falcon-headed god. Working with New York’s Animal Medical Center, X-rays and CT scans were performed on several of the mummies revealing hidden secrets and surprises. Sometimes, just a single bone would be wrapped to stand in for a particular animal. Sometimes just feathers. One oblong package contains an entire ibis, folded like an umbrella, its enormous beaked skull bent down against its skeleton.
Hawks represented the sun god, Re, Horus, and the king, all of whom were elevated in Egyptian society. A hawk-headed handle from the Middle Kingdom (1938-1759 B.C.)
One object on view is a long, skinny box, almost like a pencil case. It’s surprising to see that it was a coffin for a snake. Crocodiles, baboons, lions, rodents, fish, hippos and birds, including a spectacularly cased ibis mummy from the city of Abydos (one of the oldest on Earth) give a sense of the regard in which creatures were held.
An ibis coffin in wood, silver, gold and rock crystal on view in “Soulful Creatures.”
The exhibition offers several stunning feline depictions, mummified and wrapped or upright and regal, donned with painted jewelry and protective spells. Anubis, the jackal-headed god who ushered souls to the afterlife, sits imperious, impassive and regal in a painted wooden sculpture from Saqqara about 640 B.C.
A coffin to commemorate Horus, here wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Comprised of works from the extraordinary collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the show is complemented by a lavishly illustrated book filled with science, art, animals and Egyptian history. It presents probing essays by Bleiberg, Barbash and Bruno.
A painted mummy case from The Brooklyn Museum, which houses one of the finest collections of Egyptian art in the world.
Two antelopes sprint in an image so fresh and lively that looks like it was made today.
Ancient Egyptian society introduced countless advancements to human knowledge including some of the earliest forms of writing and monotheism, the first 24 hour day and the first 365 day calendar, early medical practices, astronomical calculations and maps, soil and farm engineering, and unparalleled architectural wonders. It’s never too late to learn something new, and sometimes the most surprising sources reveal treasures. “Soulful Creatures” reminds us at a time we sorely need it that all creation is imbued with dignity and divinity, that we are part of a large and mysterious world, and that every soul, no matter how small, how weak, how different, or how easily overlooked, deserves respect.
Top Photo: A figurine of Anubis, who guarded the spirit of mummies.
Prospect Park’s 150th anniversary, and Brooklyn’s recent blossoming as a rising cultural and residential alternative to Manhattan, provides an impetus to promote and improve Prospect Park and, in particular, a part of the Park that is underutilized. The Park’s rose garden is the site of the Connective Project. That rose garden is only a stone’s throw from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s rose garden, but a world away in attendance, style, maintenance and, in fact, roses. The Park’s rose garden is currently rose-less. On the other hand it is full of flashing, yellow pinwheels.
The Connective Project was the concept of Suchi Reddy and Reddymade Architecture and Design, a design firm associated with experimentation, bold color and new materials. In this installation, visual art proffered on line (on when visiting) by any interested person is curated, culled, printed and folded into pinwheels. Some thousands of pinwheels have been mounted in the Park’s Rose Garden secreted in Park’s northeast corner. Many thousands of blanks remain to be decorated by visitors; more than initially planned.
The Prospect Park Alliance, working with Hester Street Collaborative, a non-profit organization focused on improving the physical environment in underserved NYC neighborhoods, hopes to engage the community in the planning the restoration of the Park’s northeast corner. They will be reaching out to the community in a variety of settings to help determine the future design of this space. (The first of these community efforts began in a Community Design Workshop on June 10.) The community engagement phase is supported in part by The Altman Foundation.
The installation is slated to remain in place only through July 17, 2017; you have a short time to get there. But even if you miss seeing this effort, Prospect Park itself is well worth exploring. Prospect Park itself is, like Central Park, built on a plan of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. At 526 acres, Prospect Park is about two-thirds the size of Central Park. It, too, is a magnificent and varied park accommodating, among other sites, the Brooklyn Zoo, a charming lake and boathouse, the first urban-area Audubon Center in the nation, an ice rink, a band shell, a carousel, bike paths, dozens of athletic and recreational facilities, and the historical Lefferts House (a Dutch Colonial farmhouse built between 1777 and 1783). The Park abuts the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden – a somewhat less formal affair than the Bronx counterpart, but lovely in its own way. Its paved paths need restoration; greater efforts at garbage collection are required; better signage and maps are needed. But on the plus side, it was possible, on this gray afternoon in Brooklyn, to walk ten minutes in Adirondack-like woods and not encounter another human being. The park’s state and status have fluctuated over the years but, with the rising economic tide, efforts are being made to return it to its former glory.
The installation itself opened on July 7, a rainy day clearing toward mid-afternoon. The overcast emphasized the sunny yellow of the unadorned pinwheels. Each pinwheel is mounted on its own swaying but rigid wire stem, varying from about 30” to 60” in height. The pinwheels themselves come in a few varied diameters. As a guesstimate, perhaps 15% of the pinwheels reflect submitted art work. The rest remain a bright yellow awaiting subsequent contribution. The abundance of pinwheels had particular appeal for the few children in attendance – who, on the weekend and in the sun, will certainly be more evident.
The overall effect was charming and whimsical, especially when the wind picked up. Nonetheless, that effect might have been more powerful if the terrain had been hillier or not entirely enclosed by trees; if the space were more generous or there had been more paths among the pinwheels; if the heights were more varied and, some, taller than visitors; or if there were an overlooking prospect. (All of these variations involve cost and logistics that were not part of this particular installation – but I’m looking ahead for copycats.) If you have an interest in the Park, the Connective Project might be enough to make you accelerate your calendar, especially if you have art to contribute to one or more of the pinwheels or a child to charm. Bring a picture of your child or children on your phone or a memory stick and see it turned into a pinwheel or, better, submit it in advance on-line and find it in place on your arrival.
“Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum?” According to the Guerrilla Girls, yeah, kind of. Their supersized billboard goes on to state that less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 76% of the nudes are females. They gathered the statistics in 2011, in a response to a work done decades ago where they counted less than 3% female artists and 83% of the nudes. So, has much changed? Also, yeah, kind of.
Just over thirty years ago, the Guerrilla Girls broke conceptual ground, pointing out glaring inequities in the global art market. It all started with a 1984 exhibition at MoMA claiming to be an overview of contemporary art. When it turned out that fewer than 10% of the artists included were women or people of color, the first generation of Guerrilla Girls was born. They claimed that art cannot represent society if it excludes the majority of that society. They woke some people up and scared the hell out of others. They’re still doing it today. “Not Ready to Make Nice,” an exhibition of these provocative, political, activist feminist artists just concluded at the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
The Guerrilla Girls presciently suggested dropping an “Estrogen Bomb” on Washington back in the Bush administration.
The Guerrilla Girls are a group of anonymous women artists who, rather than being frustrated and angry about how white males dominate the canon of art history, decided to take action. They started with facts. Just how widespread and deeply rooted the inequality in the art world is and has been is the basis of all their work. They’ve pasted stickers, hung posters, carried signs, projected messages onto the sides of museums and given talks, all while wearing rubber gorilla masks. They’re out to redefine the “F” word to Feminism, through searing commentary couched in humor.
The Guerrilla Girls tout their own heroes in “The Birth of Feminism”
These masked crusaders are contemporary art’s superheroes, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. They vary in number, but over their thirty-plus years, more than 55 women have donned Guerrilla gear to fight for equal representation and compensation for women and minority artists, to rail against economic inequality, and to raise awareness of environmental dangers like fracking. Some Guerrilla Girls were active for years, some for weeks or months, but all remained anonymous, using the names of great women artists like Frida Kahlo or Käthe Kollwitz. It’s both an homage and a defense mechanism. The Guerrilla Girls have all been artists who are trying to make a living in the same system they’re debunking, so they’re courage is as real as the consequences could be to their careers.
“Not Ready to Make Nice” includes the Guerrilla Girls’ “Anatomically Correct Oscar” that predated the “Oscars So White” movement by more than 10 years.
Zuccaire Gallery director and curator, Karen Levitov, who, herself, has been shaking up the art world in a quiet corner of Long Island, mounted an extraordinary exhibition, bringing major examples of the Guerrilla Girls’ work together. The show gives an idea of the international scope of their activities, including billboards about women’s representation in art institutions from Ireland to Italy and Turkey. Years before the “Oscars So White” movement emerged, the Guerrilla Girls billboarded Hollywood with their “Anatomically Correct Oscar” on view in the exhibition. It says “He’s white and male, just like the guys who win! 92.8% of the Writing awards have gone to men. Only 5% of the Acting Awards have gone to people of color.”
Levitov invited the public – which includes, naturally, many of the university’s students – to become part of the discussion with a huge blackboard inviting responses to the Guerrilla Girls or the values they represent. Visitors even got to take home their own Guerrilla Girl work. Pink erasers marked “Erase Discrimination – Guerrilla Girls” were given out.
The Guerrilla Girls started rattling some big cages thirty years ago; the effects are being seen today.
For decades, like many women who work in the art world, I’ve silently uttered, “Thank you, Guerrilla Girls.” Now I can say it publicly.
Thank you, all Guerilla Girls, past, present and future, for kicking hornets’ nests and fighting for rights. Your efforts have been fruitful. Today, there are women directors leading the Cooper-Hewitt museum, the Queens Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Hirshhorn in Washington and the Tate Modern in London, to name a few. The Met Breuer opened its new space with a solo show of a woman, Nasreen Mohamedi, and followed it with another solo show of a woman, Diane Arbus, and when the Whitney Museum reopened, its inaugural show gave women artists pride of place. The Guerrilla Girls, are part of that, and their works are now eagerly collected by the very institutions they’ve criticized.
Listed on the Guerrilla Girls’ “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist“ are “Working without the pressure of success” and “Being assured that whatever kind of art you make it will be labeled feminine.”
Though the exhibition started in Chicago in 2012, where it was curated by Neysa Page-Lieberman, and the Zuccaire Gallery show has ended, the good news is that the Guerrilla Girls are far from done. Their artists’ talk at Stony Brook can be viewed online. You can learn about them at their website, and find out where they’ll be showing next, book an appearance, or buy one of their works like “Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes.” You’ll be in good company, the Guerilla Girls have shown at and been collected by the Brooklyn Museum; the Art Institute of Chicago; MoMA; the National Gallery of Art in Washington; Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Art Gallery NSW, Sydney, Australia; and the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Turkey, to name a few. It’s overdue but appropriate appreciation for these rebels with a cause.