Female Gaze: Women Artists Have Something to Say at SMoCA

"Unapologetic" highlights include this immersive sound sculpture by Laura Korch.
"Unapologetic" highlights include this immersive sound sculpture by Laura Korch. Laura Korch
When it comes to gender equity, American museums aren’t doing great. Fewer than 12 percent of artworks in permanent collections were created by women, according to Jennifer McCabe, who heads Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (aka SMoCA).

Her museum wants to help change that. For nearly an entire year, it’s showing an exhibition called “Unapologetic: All Women, All Year,” which includes works by 42 women artists drawn from the museum’s own collection.

“It’s important to call out the importance of gender equity,” says Julianne Swartz, an artist born in Arizona whose delicate sculptural house forms made with glass, feather, bones, silk, and seeds hang suspended in one of the museum’s galleries. Nearby, viewers see a kinetic sculpture by Tempe artist Laurie Lundquist.

More than a dozen “Unapologetic” artists are based in Arizona, including Muriel Magenta, whose Coiffure Carnival Trilogy videos are on view in the SMoCA Lounge. They explore hair’s sculptural properties and its connections to identity. “The exhibit gives people an idea of the strength of work being done in Arizona and gives Arizona artists more exposure,” Magenta says.

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Converging Territories #9 by Lalla Essaydi.
Scottsdale Arts
The exhibition was curated by Lauren O’Connell and Keshia Turley, who are part of SMoCA’s curatorial team, and is part of a larger effort by Feminist Art Coalition, a national platform for elevating feminisms in creative spaces.

“We felt like 2020 was the right time for this show, with the presidential election and the anniversary of women’s suffrage,” says O’Connell. “Women have been very active in voicing their opinions in politics, through marches and the #MeToo movement.”

“Unapologetic” includes works by both emerging and established artists. In April 2019, Laura Korch showed an interactive sound sculpture titled 528 hz during her MFA thesis exhibit for ASU School of Art. Now, the piece is part of this show, along with work by longtime staples of the Arizona arts scene — including Sue Chenoweth and Beth Ames Swartz.

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Untitled 1998 Kara Walker lithograph.
Scottsdale Arts
“The exhibit has a lot of breadth and variety,” says Beth Ames Swartz, who also happens to be Julianne Swartz’s mother. Featured artists worked with a wide range of materials, including Plexiglass, steel, flowers, wood, a bullet, correction fluid, and plant fiber. Beth Ames Swartz’s piece is a drawing made with fire. Yoko Ono used a plastic bag, box, tube of glue, ribbon, and paper.

Julianne Swartz praises the curators for including a diverse range of voices. “Some artists’ work tends to be more political and some artists’ works tends to be more personal,” she says. The exhibition also reflects a broad spectrum of ages and cultures — with works by artists born in nearly a dozen countries, from Argentina to Ukraine.

The show includes several legendary artists, including Judy Chicago, Louise Nevelson, and Kara Walker — an artist best-known for black-and-white silhouettes that explore race, gender, and violence. “It’s totally humbling to be part of this group,” says Korch.

The exhibition will evolve over time, as some works are rotated in or out of the show. But a common thread unites every piece that’s being shown.

“We want to start conversations about power structures and equity in art spaces,” says O’Connell. “Museums should be places where everyone sees themselves represented.”

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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble