Printmakers Breslin Bell MFA 21 PR and Mariana Ramos Ortiz MFA 21 PR are making space for conversations that might not otherwise occur via Feminized, a multidisciplinary exhibition that opens in RISD’s Gelman Gallery on Saturday, March 13.
As their curatorial statement notes, “feminized is a term that explores intersections of gender, race and class without subjecting or confining individuals to hegemonic conceptions of femininity. It’s not limited to womxn but extends to the objectified in all othering relationships—between colonized and colonizer, poor and rich, marginal and central, marked and unmarked.”
The 30 artists featured are investigating topics related to androgyny, girlhood, materiality, queerness, race, sexual liberation, morality, vulnerability, bodily autonomy, environmentalism, womanhood, insecurity, religion and reproductive rights. “Through a variety of mediums and concepts displayed,” the curators explain, “we aim to transgress and reformulate what it means to be feminized through the lenses these artists provide.”
Painter Lauryn Levette 21 PT, for example—whose I Rock Rough and Stuff in My Afro Puffs is pictured above—defies the racist/sexist notion that Black women need to “calm down” and hide their emotions in public. “If history—especially the current state of the world—has shown us anything,” the artist declares, “it’s that Black women have a right to be upset.”
The sludge-covered Balatar Az Siahi Rangi Nist by sculptor Aryana Polat 21 SC references the oil industry, the West’s ongoing involvement in conflicts in the Middle East and—by extension—the inherent dissonance of her Iranian-American identity.
“Organizing this show has been a great way for us to establish community during the pandemic with students from outside our department,” says Ramos Ortiz. “We’re gathering as many people and perspectives as we can into the gallery.”
Bell and Ramos Ortiz cite faculty member and local curator Nicole Caruth as a mentor and source of inspiration. “Her work has influenced our curatorial style and the way we think about printmaking,” says Ramos Ortiz. “And we’ve also attempted to emulate the level of care she takes with artists,” Bell adds.
The budding curators are including their own work in the show as well: Ramos Ortiz’s Self-Portrait (2018)—a bodily etching produced by the acidic pH levels of vaginal discharge—and Bell’s the pills, a floor-to-ceiling wallpaper reflecting on contraception and reproductive rights. “I’ve been working with this pattern for a while,” Bell says, “but with this iteration I’m thinking a lot about palette in relation to other works in the show and also in relation to bodily fluids.”
“We’re both printmakers,” Ramos Ortiz adds, “but we’re interested in transgressing the medium and thinking about installation and 3D art-making. Many of the artists selected for the show are pushing their fields or working outside their mediums—for example, Sculpture majors working in apparel.”
Organizing such a show while at the same time completing an MFA at RISD would be challenging under normal circumstances, but COVID has added a unique twist for Bell and Ramos Ortiz. “Selecting the pieces virtually—rather than by visiting artist studios and getting a first-hand sense of the work—has definitely been tough,” says Ramos Ortiz. “We were surprised during the installation by the dimensions and qualities of some of the pieces, but everything came together in the gallery.”