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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Celebrate Women's History Month with these Kansas City art exhibitions

A ceramic blue vase with a yellow face attached on display on a pedestal.
Xiao daCunha
KUCR 89.3
“Peeking out the blue," by Bella Hernandez Lusk, is one of the many pieces by women that is on display this month at galleries throughout the Kansas City area.

March is Women's History Month, and these six art exhibitions around Kansas City showcase a cohort of women artists, honor women’s history and interrogate feminist subjects.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

Women’s history and contributions should be celebrated throughout the year. But there is nothing wrong with dedicating a month for some extra spotlight on the brilliant trend-setters in all walks of our lives.

For March, we’ve picked six art exhibitions around Kansas City that highlight a cohort of women-identified artists, honor women’s history and interrogate feminist subjects.

These exhibitions explore topics like healing, sexism and discrimination, aging and immigrant experiences.

As you walk through these exhibitions, we encourage you to think about how women’s identities and gender expectations have changed throughout history, and reflect on the new and persisting challenges those identifying as women continue to navigate.


Pencil drawing of a woman and two children, their faces blank, with words "wish you were here" written across the middle of the artwork.
Courtesy of the artist
“Dia de Madres” (2023), graphite on paper, by Kiki Serna, part of "Fantasmas" at the United Colors Gallery.

When: Now through March 22
Where: United Colors Gallery, 611 N. 6th St., Kansas City, Kansas 66101

Kiki Serna’s solo exhibition, “Fantasmas,” at United Colors Gallery this month, explores her experience of an immigrant woman of color. Serna is a Mexican visual artist living and working in Kansas City, Missouri, a proud Kansas City Art Institute alum and a past Charlotte Street Foundation resident artist.

“Fantasmas” is the Spanish word for “ghosts” or “phantoms.” In Serna’s work, the term is used to represent a sense of absence and invisibility.

The artist utilizes thin graphite cross-hatchings, negative spaces, and texts to visualize the fragility of memories and the pain of vacancy. Just as becoming visible at one destination means to become absent in another, coming to the United States means an inevitable removal from the artist’s home and past.

In “Paper Plants,” Serna cut herself out of a black-and-white photograph in which her child self looked at plants. Filling up the contour instead is a handwritten letter from her father, who came to the U.S. first, while the rest of the family stayed home.

In “Dias de Madres,” loose pencil lines create an ambiguous and uncertain mirage that may dissolve at any moment. The only thing certain about the image is the dark, bolded message across the scene: “Wish you were here.”

"Elizabeth Layton: Drawing as Discourse"

Four framed rectangular art works by Elizabeth Layton displayed on a white wall.
E G Schempf
Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art
Installation view of “Elizabeth Layton: Drawing as Discourse," on display at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

When: Now through July 28
Where: Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, Kansas 66210

Did someone inspire you as a child and make you want to become the “cool grandma” when you reached old age?

The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park has a perfect exhibition on exactly that feeling. “Elizabeth Layton: Drawing as Discourse” features graphite, colored pencil, and crayon drawings by Elizabeth “Grandma” Layton, who was born in 1909 in the small Kansas town of Wellsville.

Layton’s pieces primarily use the "blind" contour drawing technique, a form of automatic drawing where the artist rarely glances at the paper but instead focuses on their reflection in the mirror. The hand draws instinctively, resulting in loose, distorted, and playful outlines.

The Nerman’s exhibition presents Layton’s drawings thematically, spanning throughout the artist’s career from 1978 to the early 1990s. Most pieces are self portraits where Layton audaciously presented her aging body.

In one image, Layton posed like a weightlifter and wore a vest full of buttons with a message of peace. Another examines the different looks of her face — loose skin, dark marks, wrinkles — with empathy and curiosity. Layton finds beauty all over her elderly body.

In other pieces, Layton explored difficult subjects including colonialism, racial discrimination, consumerism and the environmental crisis. The artist uses the same empathetic approach to highlight the humans impacted by these issues, such as the Native American elders in “Genocide of the American Indian,” whose images are shattered like reflections in a broken mirror.

"Spotty Boogaloo"

Two paintings and a brightly colored vase on display against a wall and platform that is white with blue spots of various sizes painted on it.
Xiao daCunha
KCUR 89.3
Installation view of “Spotty Boogaloo," featuring art by Bella Hernandez Lusk, presented by the Beco Gallery.

When: Now through March 29
Where: The Smalter Gallery, 1802 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Missouri 64111

Presented by Beco Gallery, an artist-run collective that curates exhibitions at various venues across Kansas City, "Spotty Boogaloo" is a solo showcase of oil paintings and sculptures from 18-year-old Kansas City artist Bella Hernandez Lusk.

Lusk is also a member of the Kemper Teen Arts Council, and in 2022 was the youngest artist to be inducted into the Nerman’s permanent collection.

Lusk’s art grapples with how the pandemic and resulting isolation impacted her generation. Lusk was in middle school at Kansas City Academy when COVID-19 hit, and that young and somewhat naive perspective impacted how she interacted with the rapidly changing world.

The paintings show figures cozied up with their plants, hanging out in bed, or leaning against a doorframe, actions we’ve all repeated countless times during the pandemic. The stoneware sculptures are accompanied with dried flowers, as if the figure is offering a bouquet.

Having been cooped for too long, the figure may have become awkward in their socialization skills, but it still takes a courageous step forward, presenting the flower that grew from their isolation.

“I didn’t have the high school experience everyone woes or boasted about… Our generation was growing a rose in the dark, we found ourselves the best way we could cooped up in our homes,” Lusk said in her exhibition statement.

"To Prove That I Exist": Melissa Shook's Daily Self-Portraits, 1972-1973

Melissa Shook self-portrait photograph, holding her hands to her face, palms out, and sticking out her tongue.
Melissa Shook
March 19, 1973, vintage gelatin silver print, part of "To Prove that I Exist: Melissa Shook's Daily Self-Portraits, 1972-1973" at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

When: March 9 through Aug. 4
Where: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St., Kansas City, Missouri 64111

Beginning in December 1972, New York photographer Melissa Shook decided to take a self-portrait every day for an entire year to create a physical archive of her existence.

After her mother died when Shook was 12 years old, she developed a rare memory loss condition that left her entire childhood a blank. This void prompted Shook to document her daughter’s everyday life, and eventually to document herself.

The Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery wrote that Shook’s project was a response to “her insecurity as a single mother raising a biracial child and her obsession to keep her memory vivid and intact for her daughter.”

In many portraits, Shook either had her eyes closed or her hands near or over her face. Other “portraits” are actually close-ups of her body with her face completely excluded. These photographs reflect Shook’s tendency to hide herself as a result of depression and the stigma around being a single mother.

“To Prove That I Exist”: Melissa Shook’s Daily Self-Portraits, 1972-1973 is the perfect exhibition for this Women’s History Month in this way, as Shook’s self-portraits show how women struggle with confidence, self-validation and gaining legitimacy. “When I look at these photographs, I see a young woman, trapped in a body too attractive for her to manage, much less enjoy,” Shook wrote later on her website.

While Shook’s portraits have been shown separately at various galleries in the past, this Nelson-Atkins exhibit is the first time the group of more than 200 photographs is displayed together as a full body of work.


Interior view of Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, with art displayed on white walls.
Leedy Voulkos Art Center
Installation view of “RESONANCE," on display at the Leedy Voulkos Art Center.

When: Now through April 27
Where: Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Ave., Kansas City, Missouri 64108

“RESONANCE” is a group exhibition presented by RE: Generation, a regional artist collective bonded via shared history and generational and gender experiences.

The group is composed of nine women artists from Missouri and Kansas working in various media, content, styles, and techniques, including weaving, painting, printmaking, photography and illustration.

Previously exhibited at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, the collective work shares themes like the uncertainties and isolation of the pandemic, a generational need for mending and healing, and hopeful discussions of a positive collective future.

Gaze upon the large-format tapestry woven by Shawnee-based Janet Kuemmerlein, and then turn to the abstract geometrical illustrations created by Megan Wyeth. Both artists capture fluidity and motion, highlighting how women often make sense of the world through a less rigid perspective.

"The Road Home: The Journey from Homelessness to Housing"

View of a woman with dark hair pulled back in a clip looking at an image of a woman and an image of a man.
reStart, Inc.
Installation image of “The Road Home: A Journey from Homelessness to Housing," now on display at the Kansas City Museum.

When: Now through April 28
Where: Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., Kansas City, Missouri 64123

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women," Matthew Desmond wrote in the Pulitzer-winning book “Evicted."

On view now at the Kansas City Museum, “The Road Home: A Journey from Homelessness to Housing” carries extraordinary value this month as women, especially women of color, are more vulnerable to eviction and homelessness. They also face unique, and often harsher, challenges on their way back into secure housing.

The exhibition, organized by Kansas City nonprofit reStart Inc., comprises 18 portraits of current and former shelter residents photographed by Randy Bacon and accompanied by their stories and a film.

“The Road Home” aims to present homelessness both honestly and compassionately, to remove the stigma traditionally surrounding the subject, and to invite the audience to join forces in finding solutions.

Originally from China, Xiao daCunha covers arts and culture happenings in the Midwest, specifically focusing on the Kansas City metro and Chicagoland. She has written for KCUR, The Pitch, Sixty Inches from Center, and BRIDGE Chicago, and spent three years as Managing Editor at a Chicago digital publication, UrbanMatter. A practicing visual artist herself, Xiao combines her artistic talent with her writing to contribute to public art education and explores topics relevant to BIPOC artists, gender identity, and diasporic identity. You can reach her on Instagram and Twitter.
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