Italian women who work at a villa in the hills sit together in a bath house, rubbing each other’s sore shoulders. An eager young woman in Mexico finds scientific principals and wonders around her, even in an egg or a child’s hand throwing spillikins. An artist from Brooklyn imagines a library holding every story in the world … and makes me think of all the stories we might find again there — Sappho? The lost wonder tales of Cordoba and Toledo? Poets composing in Nahuatl, hearing birds in the rain?
I walked through WCMA on Monday afternoon, with the work of women artists around me. Dotty Attie turns around the artist’s gaze in an Italian painting — lifting up the working women as they rest together, amplifying their gestures and their eyes. Kameelah Janan Rasheed turns the rotunda into a spiral galaxy, a dervish’s centripetal force or the nucleus of a cell. Amalia Mesa-Bains imagines the 17th-century Library of Sor Juana de la cruz.
It felt good to hear woman’s voices, and I found myself thinking, Where have I seen women artists in the Berkshires this summer? And I’m finding the answer more challenging than I expected.
I’ve been exploring art exhibits around the county as they’ve opened — organic shapes in the woods at the Mount and birds at Berkshire Botanical Garden, and wry, absurdly natural creatures at the Clark Art Institute, shadow play at Mass MoCA a few blocks from the new mural honoring Lue Gim Gong, who worked in the mills here 150 years ago.
But where have I last seen a woman artist creating work about a woman’s experience — especially a woman seaking strongly, clearly, with potential as well as pain? I think of Trinh Mai’s paintings and the arrows she has fletched by hand, and the scrolls that set memories safely into sacred spaces in the walls, in Hostile Terrain 94, as stories of immigration unfold at MCLA …
It shouldn’t feel hard to find a woman looking at the world. It shouldn’t feel hard to find a woman transforming the world. With our museums and colleges and artist studios and painted sidewalks, we have room for a woman to speak, whether she’s fighting for her family or her life, or her language, or her land — or watching crows in her garden, telling stories, or relaxing into warm water and the taste and mint or lavendar, or the feel of clay in her hands.
And yet when I think carefully, it takes time to find half a dozen artists in different places. I have to sift through all I’ve seen in the last three or four months and glean them. But some come to me. Carol Gold’s Infinite Dance stands poised on the Common in Pittsfield, and Immi Storr’s raven-like birds nest at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Claude Lalanne’s lifts the corner of a smiling mouth at the Clark Art Institute, and Robin Tost’s Spirit Bear stands in the ferns at the Mount. Trinh Mai weaves family stories into her paintings at MCLA’s Gallery 51, and Wendy Red Star and her daughter look outward together from a portrait in her exhibit at Mass MoCA …
Keep an eye out, and we’ll find more.