Artist Heather Doyle-Maier is stripping a common ritual to its most basic components. In two current shows in the Navajo Arts District, she explores the meaning of getting dressed and undressed.
Doyle-Maier is featured in Lovesick at Zip 37, and she has an installation in the back room of Edge, just up the block. "My show is looking into how gender is a construction -- a social construction that has been loosely based on anatomy, but also has its own separate life," she says of the work at Edge. "I think we are all constructed to perform a gender -- and part of what my work in Her (un)Doing examines is the particular way that girls have been enrolled into a gender."
Westword recently caught up with Doyle-Maier to ask about the process of constructing a gender.
Westword: Do you think there are standards placed on men in society, just as there are on women?
Heather Doyle-Maier: I think there are standards on everyone; gender-specific standards are some of the most visible, because gender has been a binary system, and what doesn't belong to one can exist in the other. I think that because female has been the marked gender -- meaning the one you have to specify when speaking, rather than assuming it is male -- the standards we put on girls and women might be more noted, but the standards placed on boys and men are at least as strong. Again, such standards are part of placing everyone into the structure of gender. How can we remove the packaging of girls, and babies in general?
I'm not sure we need to, or can. Dressing up babies is not only part of keeping them warm and safe, but part of how we adore them, and their survival depends on us adoring them. That said, as a mother, I tried not to dress my own daughter in clothes that were too frilly or decorative because I didn't want to worry about the clothes at the expense of her freedom of movement and activities. Instead, I looked for sturdy, colorful clothes. I also didn't want her energetic spirit and bright mind to be subsumed by an assumption that she was only decorative. But I did love seeing her in pretty clothes -- when she wore them! I think that no matter what clothing we choose for our children, we make a statement about how we want them to be held in the world, and just like reading the labels on food packaging, it's good to be aware of the potentially limiting contents of whatever packaging you are applying.
What are your thoughts on the androgen hormone that produces testosterone in women and estrogen in men?
I think there is some of the masculine and the feminine in all of us, and that is reflected in our chemistry. Our packaging, or how we dress, can support the masculine/feminine ratio of our chemistry or belie it. Do you think other cultures wrap up their children as Americans do?
I don't know as much about other cultures; my guess would be that they do. I know that in earlier eras in Europe, boys and men were the more decorated gender, especially among the upper classes. Now in the United States, girls are the more decorated gender. Per my earlier comment about babies being dependent on being adored, I regret that there aren't more adorable options available for little boys, as they are certainly worthy of as much adoration as are girls.
What other events do you have lined up this year?
I am hoping to be in an exhibit of artists' books at Abecedarian Gallery on Santa Fe, showing the cloth book version of Her (un) Doing. I'm also teaching several bookmaking workshops.
Is there anything you would like to add?
It has been interesting to hear the reactions of different people coming to see the show. Several have commented about how adorable the work is, and on one level, they're right: It is designed to be delightful and lovely. I hope that some people will take time with the work to see what is below the adorable, below the obvious presentation of gender, to recognize the vulnerability beneath that surface.
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You can catch Doyle-Maier's installation at Edge and her piece at Zip 37 through February 26.