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Women to Watch exhibit promotes equal representation

Representation in the arts is an important yet often overlooked factor in encouraging aspiring creative minds to follow their dreams. A strong component of a “you can too” attitude is seeing someone like yourself achieving their dreams.

Jessica Thompson-Lee, Untitled, 2017, bronze with marble base, 12 x 13 x 5 inches, Courtesy of the artist, © Jessica Thompson-Lee.

Historically, art has been dominated by white males. Many of our classic or most valued pieces are among their massive haul of work. It used to be common place for women writers and artists to take on a male sounding alias, and as a result far fewer women than men took on creative roles. Women who did achieve such feats are applauded today, but a long standing consequence has been the continued lack of representation for women in the arts, especially women of ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds.

In an effort to correct this injustice, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art triennially hosts an exhibit called Women to Watch through a partnership with the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The most recent Women to Watch exhibit opened last summer and ran for 8 months, closing Jan. 8.

While the medium and type of art showcased in the exhibit changes, the mission to bring recognition to underrepresented women artists remains the same.

Erin Dziedzic, Director of Curatorial Affairs for the museum, said the museum showcases works by under represent groups.

“In developing and presenting exhibitions, the Museum strives to represent national and international aesthetic and cultural diversity,” said Dziedzic. “Within this institutional focus, the themes and artists presented are in dialogue with a range of topics and social issues pertinent to our current times.”

This year’s theme was metals, and the exhibit displayed art by five Kansas City women who all used this common medium in an unique way.

Dziedzic said the artists and theme were very significant.

Angelica Sandoval, Untitled (detail), 2017, porcelain, steel, LED’s, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist © Angelica Sandoval. Photo: Barbara Sullivan Photography

“This important group of emerging artists give us insight into the conceptual range of material, in this case metals that are being considered for use today in contemporary art,” said Dziedzic.

Artist Cheryl Eve Acosta used the metal to craft cuffs, collars and a necklace while Debbie Barrett-Jones created digital prints of weavings on aluminum in hues of gold, grey and blue. Connected by the shared use of metal, each artist’s contribution was unique in appearance and presentation.

Angelica Sandoval’s piece, The Empyreal, consisted of metal bulbs hanging from the ceiling with LED lights. Transporting patrons into an otherworldly forest , this piece brought new meaning to the incorporation of metal in art.

Dziedzic explained the significance of the partnership with the National Museum of Women in the Arts in creating this empowering exhibition.

“By supporting and partnering with programs originated by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, we continue our shared advocacy for better representation of women artists worldwide,” he said. “It is important to celebrate and to provide critical discourse for underrepresented artists today in order to continue to address the gender imbalance in the presentation of art.”

Not only were the artists given recognition through the public display of their creations, they also gained connections with other artists through both museums.

“This exhibition provides an opportunity to support the trajectory of women artists at an important moment in their careers,” said Dziedzic. “Connecting with a national institution like NMWA immediately puts each of these artists in connection with peer artists nationally and internationally and shines a light what will hopefully be long lasting conversations about these artist’s work for decades to come.”

The Women Watch exhibits shows that equal representation is possible by fulfilling the dreams of women artists. Representation can change lives, minds and inspire the reach for a higher goal. Perhaps someday art will be dominated by all who pursue it, regardless of race or gender.

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