by Robin Boland
A new collection at the Columbia City Gallery entitled “Nevertheless. We Persist.” caught my eye for a variety of reasons. The gallery’s site references Margaret Sanger (the grandmother of today’s reproductive rights fight) in the collection description and I was curious about the exhibit, the intent and the impact.
The curator, Ellen Hochberg spoke to me about the impetus for the collection and what she hoped would come of it. In the broadest sense, we both agreed that the fight over reproductive rights and access to women’s healthcare is not so much about protecting babies as much as about controlling women’s bodies (happy to argue this point over a beer anytime). By restricting access to birth control, sex education and women’s healthcare services Hochberg feels that the states are “slowly whittling away at women’s choices.”
Hochberg’s hope for the “Nevertheless. We Persist.” exhibit, running through April 1, is that it will spark a dialogue and engage people in discussions about the vitally important issue of women’s reproductive freedoms. To that end there is an event being held on March 18 from 5–7pm at the Columbia City Gallery that will involve the artists telling the stories of their work, as well as representatives from the reproductive rights community such as NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and Planned Parenthood The ultimate goal of the event is to hear both from the artists and from these organizations about concrete actions we can take, both big and small, to support women in this fight.
In our conversation about the context of the current exhibit, Hochberg referenced the infamous 2012 statement by former Missouri senator/gynotician Todd Akin that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” (Akin subsequently lost the 2012 senate race to Claire McCaskill). This ignorant and dismissive attitude led Hochberg to curate a 2012 exhibit focused on reproductive freedom entitled “Who Does She Think She Is?” Hochberg noted that in today’s worsening healthcare climate it felt like it was time to bring the issue back to the forefront and that “images can make a point that words cannot.”
The images in the “Nevertheless. We persist.” collection are far from one dimensional and the artists represented in the collection utilize a broad array of mediums, from fabric to metal to ceramics in their goal of telling their stories. Stories that we choose to tell about our bodies are intrinsically personal stories and that intimacy can be felt when observing these works. The piece entitled “I Will Tend My Own Garden” (by Sandi Bransford) is a woman with a closed mouth but a blooming flower at her pelvis. The image says what words cannot.
Just as each woman’s story is different, each of the pieces has a different voice, including the talking chastity belt (by Ellen Berdinner), the fallopian shaped wire hangers (by Holly Ballard Martz) and the oil on canvas work entitled “When Biology was Destiny” (by Louise Britton) depicting a woman in Victorian-era dress with a chain piled upon her lap that gave me handmaid’s tale type shivers.
For the most part, I was able to understand or interpret the artists’ intent when viewing the pieces but I was confused about one, a tic tac toe board created using men’s ties entitled “A Cat’s Game” (by Rosalie Frankel). I asked Hochberg about that piece in particular as the meaning wasn’t immediately obvious to me, but I came to find that the explanation lies in the title. When no one wins at tic tac toe it’s called a ‘cat’s game’ and when male politicians (represented by the ties) are playing games with women’s lives, women’s rights and women’s bodies then no one wins.
I highly encourage you to visit the gallery, open Wednesday through Sunday from 11–7 at 4864 Rainier Avenue South, to hear firsthand the messages that these artists are sending out through their work. It’s an important conversation from a personal perspective, happening in a public platform.
Robin Boland is a Hillman City resident
Featured image courtesy of the Columbia City Gallery