Reassessing Power: The Fralin’s New Look – The Cavalier Daily
“Power Play,” the latest exhibition from the University’s Fralin Museum of Art, reimagines popular female figures like Disney princesses and American dolls to critique mainstream media’s definitions of gender and social roles. Curated by curator Hannah Cattarin, assistant curator Adriana Greci Green and exhibition curator Laura Minton, this photography exhibition features the work of five female artists – Sarah Maple, Tokie Rome-Taylor, Cara Romero, Martine Gutierrez and Wendy Red Star – which exploit fashion, color and staging to build powerful messages.
Each artist uses their cultural upbringing and individual techniques to critique reinforced ideas of femininity, gender roles and identity. Together, their photographs aim to replace prevailing narratives in the media, challenging traditional norms and connecting the past to the present – a goal reinforced by the written introductions placed alongside each artist’s work in the exhibition.
“I like the variety that’s shown,” said Glenna Ohlmes, a museum visitor. “I think the first time I went through it, I didn’t enjoy it until I read about each one.”
Maple’s “Disney Princess” series confronts harmful representations of femininity through its portrayal of princesses in professional settings. Each princess can be seen performing tasks outside of the home environment – Snow White works in a chemistry lab, Sleeping Beauty is a surgeon in a hospital, Belle coaches a football game and Ariel directs a business meeting.
Maple intentionally portrays each princess in her traditional attire from the movies to confront stereotypical gender roles and illuminate how the media influences society’s creation and enforcement of these roles. As the exhibition describes, the British artist uses his “mixed religious and cultural upbringing” to inspire his pieces, challenging the status quo.
Tokie Rome-Taylor’s work confronts the representation and erasure of black culture in Western history. His series depicts three African children dressed in rich traditional European outfits to convey the idea of ”creolization” – the mixed European and African cultures that resulted in widespread violence.
In the exhibition, Rome-Taylor explains how his work “[reaches] back to address the erasure of value in how black bodies are perceived and represented,” countering inaccurate stereotypes and historically inferior representations of people of color.
Central to the exhibit is Romero’s “First American Girl” series, with three pieces that portray Native American women in stereotypical attire to critique traditional assumptions of Native culture in the media and reclaim the modernity of Native peoples. The women are in brilliant colors with bright backgrounds that mimic doll wrappers to address the disrespectful portrayals of Native Americans in toys.
Each woman is from a different Native American tribe, and Romero herself is a citizen of the Chemehuevi Indian tribe of California. Her upbringing on the Chemehuevi reservation informs her approach to depicting Indigenous identities in modern art and allows her to accurately address issues that these communities find important.
To the right of Romero’s series in the exhibit is Martine Gutierrez’s “Lineup” series, which uses photographs of thin but curvy models and dolls to critique the unrealistic physical ideals society sets for women and the way whose ideals shape the construction of female identities. . The pieces are both self-portraits, capturing Gutierrez attempting to blend in with the models she poses with.
The purpose of the work, as Gutierrez explains in an introduction to the exhibition, is for Gutierrez to discuss her own identity and how she fits into society, not just as a woman, but as a “trans woman, Latin woman and woman of indigenous descent”. descent.” Gutierrez’s insertion of herself among idealized female bodies expresses the reinvention of queer embodiment and challenges the viewer to see society through a new lens.
Finally, Wendy Red Star’s “Four Seasons” series is presented. Drawing on her experience of the Crow Indian Reservation, artist Apsáalooke comments on the erasure and disappearance of Indigenous peoples using life-size dioramas similar to natural history museums.
While traditional dioramas often depict extinct landscapes and animals, Star uses herself as the subject and meets the viewer’s gaze to communicate the often overlooked truth that Indigenous peoples still exist. Dressed in honorable attire and using witty techniques such as irony, Star confronts commonly held ideas of Indigenous demise and Western depictions.
“We hope to change our audience’s perceptions of sites and consumer objects that play a significant role in reinforcing gender constructs and stereotypes,” the curators said. “We were able to purchase ten of the works in the exhibition, one or more by each artist, for the Fralin’s permanent collection. You may see the photographs again in future exhibitions at the museum.
“Power Play” is truly a moving exhibition. Not only does this entertain museum visitors, but it also inspires them to investigate the cultural norms and values at play in their own lives. For more information, the museum will host a virtual panel with the five artists on Zoom on November 18 from 5:30-7 p.m. The exhibit will run through December 31 and is located in the J. Sanford Gallery on the second floor. of Fraline.