by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
In 1972, just about fifty years ago, a group of women took a dilapidated house in Hollywood and renovated it from roof to floor. They took out the walls, replaced the windows and reconstructed it entirely into a feminist, site-specific art exhibition - a first of its kind. Under the guidance of American artist Judy Chicago and co-educator, Canadian artist Miriam Shapiro, this group of students created an immersive experience, combined with art performances and interactive sessions. The showcase, titled Womanhouse, was received with acclaim and saw over 10,000 people pass through its doors. The art exhibition served not only as a space to view art, but also to come together as a community to discuss issues that were urgent - to open up socio-political dialogue. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this landmark in the art history, Womanhouse is re-imagined and brought to life by non-profit organisation 'Through The Flower' (TTF), founded by Chicago in 1977. Executive Director at TTF, Megan Malcom-Morgan, speaks with STIR about what stayed the same, and what has changed.
Originally founded to be the permanent installation site of Chicago’s The Dinner Party, TTF continues at over four decades old today. The headquarters of TTF have been located in Belen, New Mexico, and United States since 2004. Malcom-Morgan says, “Our mission has always been social change and empowerment through art. Being able to create a space that is telling a narrative, not just creating art for art's sake. It is activism through art."
Wo/manhouse (2022) is the contemporary rendition of the original Womanhouse of 1972, and just like the first namesake, it serves as a space for dialogue and discourse. When speaking of change, Malcolm-Morgan pointed out that although 50 years have passed, in many ways things have not improved at all. She says, “In 1972, women were still fighting for their rights, and here we are fifty years later in America where Roe v. Wade has just been overturned. So, it is an interesting parallel that we actually haven't progressed in a lot of areas. We have shifted back, regressed.” Roe v. Wade was legislation passed by the American Supreme Court which granted access to safe abortion practices to women. This historical turning, and the outrage that ensued after, has made the timing of this exhibition all the more relevant. The exhibition examines and reinvents itself to be more inclusive and up-to-date with the sociocultural currents of the present day. Malcolm-Morgan tells us, “There were some issues with the original Womanhouse. One was that it was all upper-class, white women. We wanted to make sure that this time was more inclusive, and open across the gender spectrum” .
The parameters for Wo/manhouse were limited to artists of any ethnicity, gender and age in the New Mexico state area. TTF put out an open call to local contemporary artists across the state. The final shortlist of artists included 19 individuals, who were invited to take one space in the house and create their own feminist art.
The curatorial concept for the exhibition is Home, and each installation is the artist’s own perception and unpacking of what ‘home’ means to them. Malcolm-Morgan shares, “We strictly based it on what their perception of this room in a house is. That is really what created it to be so diverse and dynamic because everyone has a different perspective, but at the same time we kind of have a universal idea of what home means to us all”. The executive director concludes by saying, “If you were to walk into this space you would find a room that speaks to you in one way or the other”.
Each room in Wo/manhouse tells a story. One bedroom by amateur artist Gabriel Partido explores cultural norms, creating a ‘typical boy bedroom’ with posters of cars and rock bands with a secret closet which reveals the artist’s true personality. Malcolm-Morgan describes her pick of the house saying, “One of my favourites is Dirty Laundry which is in our laundry room. The artist has made these beautiful baby dresses that hang on a clothesline. At first, you see them and you say, ‘Oh! How cute and adorable.’ When you look closely, you see embroidered statistics about child abuse. It is really impactful because those are the things that go on in the home too. So the space really represents the universal home, and shows that home can be a place of love and compassion, but also of terror”. The diversity of artists' responses speaks to us about global issues on a personal scale. Wo/manhouse works to strike the right balance between social awareness and aesthetic appeal.
The site-specific art installations are supplemented with an active event calendar which includes artist talks, film screenings and performances. On August 27th, Johanna Demetrakas visited to screen her 1974 documentary about the original Womanhouse, a film which cemented Womanhouse’s place in history. TTF is also working with the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force to raise awareness. Malcolm-Morgan says, “We live in a pretty impoverished community here. So education in healthcare is very rare”. The house also hosts performances by artists every Saturday in the patio space.
One aspect of Wo/manhouse that I found most fascinating is the curatorial decision to include only local artists from New Mexico. In a world that is increasingly global, with blurred borders between our physical and digital worlds, hyper-localisation provides a solution that many of us miss. The daring decision to go local in this context is a rewarding one. Malcolm-Morgan tells us, “Having a show that only showcases local artists does change the environment a lot. I think what it does is remove hierarchy. I think having local artists within the community creates something that is more dynamic, more intimate and welcomes people who would usually never come to an exhibition like this. Because we are inclusive to this age range, you have teenagers or young adults or kids who come through the house and want to experience art in a way that you usually don't see them experience art”.
Wo/manhouse will be on view until October 9, 2022.