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50 Women Have Something To Say In This Overland Park Art Show

Susan Kiefer
Susan Kiefer's 'The Amazon and the Hydra,' a print from woodcut, looks to mythology as commentary on the political climate in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

In your average art museum collection, which often displays the female form in various states of undress, less than 10 percent of the work was created by women.

A show at the InterUrban ArtHouse changes that ratio, at least for one month in Kansas City.

"Her Art: Who Does She Think She Is?" exhibits work by 50 women from around the metro who bring an array of backgrounds and experiences: African-American, Latinx and white; straight and gay; urban, suburban and rural. The oldest artist is over 80; the youngest is 17.

"Women face a lot of challenges being taken seriously in the art world," says Wolfe Brack, one of the show’s organizers. This is an opportunity, he says, "to show without fear."

Some of the artists have studios; some have full time jobs and produce art as an avocation. A few are retired, some teach, some are students. Some are well-known, others have never shown their work before. Some are mothers, all are daughters, and they all have a story to tell.

Some of the work is gentle, such as Brittney Carter's "True," a charcoal and pastel drawing on wood. Other  pieces are playful, but others are decidedly not playing, such as ONOH’s “Only Judy Can Judge Me,” a stunning digital collage of images compiled from grand master paintings that depicts the Biblical figure of Judith beheading Holophernes.

Credit Jenine Casson
Jenine Casson's 'I Won't.' Cassen says her work reclaims embroidery as a tool for political statements and personal reflection.

There are bold political statements, such as Susan Kiefer’s 2018 “The Amazons and the Hydra” and subtler pieces, like Christina Santner’s ephemeral “fragments not forgotten.”

This variety and scope is immediately clear upon entering the gallery. Despite limited background information about the artists and the works, they are situated to allow for a dialogue between pieces and to look for the similarities and the outliers. Conclusions are left to individual viewers.

Co-presented by the ArtHouse and the University of Missouri-Kansas City Women’s Center, the exhibition is part of the ongoing "Her Art Project" series initiated by Arzie Umali, women's center's assistant director. The project began in 2010, and continued with "Who Does She Think She Is?" in 2011.

"This is a global issue, not just in Kansas City," Umali says of sexism in art history and discrimination against women in the current art world.

A recent study by Williams College calculated that U.S. art museum collections contain 85 percent works by men and 87 percent works by white artists.

Credit Nedra Bonds
Nedra Bond's 'Sweetness' is from her quilt series depicting enslaved women. Its caption reads 'You bought my soul for toil and lash, I grind this glass to fix your ass.'

For some of the artists in this show, it was an opportunity to experiment. Laura Hurcomb repurposes books, hiding objects between pages and obscuring the text to convey the experience of a reading disability.

Stitchery, sometimes considered women's and therefore lesser work, features heavily, with quilting, fabric sculpture and embroidery as women have reclaimed the art form of their foremothers.

"There's a dialogue that goes along with the exhibition, to show all the different facets of women's involvement in the arts and elsewhere," says Brack. "We wanted to show that this conversation can happen across many different formats."

Credit Christina Santer
Christina Santer's 'fragments not forgotten,' from her 'We Remain Together' series, is stitched-togetehr lace, vellum and coffee-stained papers.

A variety of programs accompany the exhibition, including a panel discussion about art and activism and upcoming performances by singer-songwriter Joy Zimmerman; an aerial showcase by Sacred Circus; and an evening of spoken word, music and magic by poets Jen Harris and Emery Diercks, and singer-songwriter Teri Quinn.

"We are actively working to inspire more and more women to live in the light of their truth re: all aspects of our fluctuating identities and roles," says Harris.

There's also a screening of the 2009 documentary "Who Does She Think She Is?," which tracks five women artists as they try to balance their artistic output and family commitments, and references the work of the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous feminist activist group, which first brought the issue to light in the late 1980s.

Among the issues Umali will discuss at an Artist Salon is women's tendency to under-price their work, which the organizers realized anew as they started unpacking pieces for this show and saw the comparatively low prices some artists had attached to their work.

"I wonder if that’s a learned response," says Brack, who worked with some of the artists to revalue their work.

Credit Ada Koch
Ada Koch's 'Modern Madonna' is from her series about war, loss and love.

"Historically, women have been left out of the art market," says Umali. She cites instances of women’s work attributed to men in order to secure competitive prices or be taken seriously, a phenomenon also seen in literature, music, and science. "The gender pay gap is still hovering around 80 cents to the dollar," she says.

But she can tell that their efforts are having an effect, at least on the local level.

"What I've seen is that other organizations, other people in the arts community, are having more consciousness about this," she says. "I feel it wasn't a consideration before."

"Her Art: Who Does She Think She Is?" through April 19 at the InterUrban ArtHouse, 8001 Newton St., Overland Park, Kansas 66204.

KCUR contributor Libby Hanssen writes the culture blog Proust Eats A Sandwich. Follow her on Twitter, @libbyhanssen.

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen is a freelance writer in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. Learn more at Proust Eats a Sandwich.
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