A new museum exhibit showcases the confines of domestic life through art just in time for Women’s History Month.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts is presenting “Women House,” an exhibit aimed at challenging a woman’s place in society and reimagining their relationships in the home. In celebration of Women’s History Month, “Women House” will be open through May 28 with student tickets for $8.
The exhibit pays homage to “Womanhouse,” a 1972 exhibition organized by two artists, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, in Los Angeles. In addition to works from the original exhibit, “Women House” features pieces from the 1960s through today. Orin Zahra, the assistant curator at the museum, said the exhibit balances older works with new artist exhibitions.
“This exhibition takes that really important feminist moment in time as inspiration to once again explore how contemporary artists approach the issue of home and domestic space,” Zahra said.
The exhibit starts off with a few centerpieces to help visitors delve into the mindset of the artists. Nil Yalter, a Turkish artist, has a piece titled “Topak Ev” that resembles an Anatolian yurt, which is a large tent-like structure made from various items like lambskin and felt. The piece is empowering in that it’s a space designed by women for women, but the structure also represents a sort of prison as the males did not allow the women to leave the tent.
Mona Hatoum’s “Home” is a wooden table where 15 steel kitchen utensils are displayed. At first glance it may look like a traditional dining table, but the utensils are connected to each other through wires running a live electrical current. The kitchen is seen as a space for women to provide nourishment and comfort to their families, but this exhibit shows how ambivalent the artists feel toward traditional ideas about women managing the household.
“She often likes to introduce a physical or psychological disturbance to contradict those expectations,” Zahra said of the artist.
The exhibit is divided into eight themes. Each theme has at least one room dedicated to it and multiple pieces ranging from photos to videos to paintings. Some themes are inspired by famed feminists like Virginia Woolf, and others are based on political events – like the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“These themes are really intended to show the plurality and multiplicity of viewpoints that women have when they approach the issue of home and domestic space,” Zahra said.
The first prominent theme showcases Miriam Schapiro’s exhibit “Dollhouse,” which is a dollhouse that depicts dangerous items in each room. A spider is found in the nursery, a group of men are looking into the kitchen through the window and a snake is spotted in the living room. All of the items are meant to emphasize the confines and stereotypes of a woman’s domestic experience.
Artist Louise Bourgeois’s paintings capture the overwhelming burden the house places on women through her piece “Femme Maison,” which translates to woman house. In the piece, a house sits on top of a woman’s body that has no head, arms or legs. The idea that the woman is being devoured by her home is also complemented by the oversexualization of the woman’s body, as her breasts are pronounced and prominent, but she has no head or brain.
All these themes complement, contradict or even just exist next to each other and bring out the different ideas, thoughts and feelings behind each struggle women have faced.