Women's Work Is Never Done
Colorado's virtual Women of the West Museum can be accessed only by computer, but its commitment to the interactive spread of knowledge and culture doesn't stop online. WOW has become involved in artist/youth mentoring programs and has released Expanded Visions: Four Women Artists Print the West, a portfolio featuring diverse images from a quartet of eminent artists working in the Western U.S., including Californians Alison Saar and Hung Liu and New Mexicans Anita Rodriguez and Emmi Whitehorse. The museum will expand on the portfolio late next year when it launches an entire touring exhibit based on the artists' works and sensibilities; scheduled to debut in Indianapolis, the display will then travel to eleven more venues across the country over a period of four years.
A taste of what's in store can be sampled in the coming weeks when WOW shows the portfolio in the flesh, rather than online, for the first time. Two of the artists involved, Rodriguez and Whitehorse, will be on hand November 14 and 15 at venues in Boulder and Denver to discuss their works with the viewing public. Issues faced by women artists in the West are likely to come up in these conversations. This territory is well trod by Rodriguez, who grew up in the artist colony of Taos and now paints images of skeletons that are invested with eerie life, and Whitehorse, whose journeys have taken her from the earth-and-sky motifs of the remote Navajo reservation where she was raised to the conceptual world of non-representational art.
What does it mean to be included in the museum's endeavor? First of all, it's about more than being a woman and more than being a Westerner: Together, those realities create a new perspective. For Whitehorse, it has to do with the difference in the way women relate to the land, perhaps the leading commodity and metaphor of the West. "We see it as more of a nurturing element," she notes, "rather than something to be forced to produce."
Her "Jackstraw," a luminous print covering both sides of a sheet of translucent mulberry paper, is tied to the land in texture and spirit. However, it's also given to specifically Western issues. The title, Whitehorse points out, connotes worthlessness: "It's a term applied to a man with no land, no money, no nothing. In earlier times, when the West was being settled, a lot of the areas considered 'worthless' were made into reservations for native tribes." Still, Whitehorse gleaned much from her so-called worthless homeland. Even now, in the process of moving her studio to a comparatively urban setting in Tucson, she says, "It worries me. I'm seeing it as if we're taking land away from the natural inhabitants."
Rodriguez quotes novelist Virginia Woolf in her attempt to explain her qualifications as a woman artist of the West: "'I'm a woman and I have no country,'" she begins. "'I'm a woman and I need no country. I'm a woman and the whole world is my country.'" Echoing Woolf, she seems to have come up with a perfect motto for the Women of the West Museum.
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