All posts in “International Women’s Day”

Object of the Week: Illumination from the Book of Kells

No celebration of Women’s (or Womxn’s, if you prefer) History Month would be complete without a mention of International Women’s Day, a holiday in March celebrated worldwide with roots in early 20-century Socialist demonstrations for increased visibility and support for female workers.[1] Although International Women’s Day 2019 has already passed, Theodora L. Harrison’s meticulous reproduction of a medieval illumination is a wonderful reminder of the value of artistic work created by women.

Harrison (born in Ireland in 1890) lived in Seattle for over 20 years and enjoyed a prolific career as an illustrator, watercolorist, local art gallery director, and president of the Women Painters of Washington association. Throughout her life, Harrison achieved international success as an illustrator, and championed diverse artists at the Little Gallery in the Fredrick and Nelson department store, right here in Seattle.

This illustration is a precise rendering of the Latin text “Tunc crucifixerant,” from folio 124r from the Book of Kells, one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts in Western European Medieval History, created sometime in the ninth century.[2] The original work is famed for its intensely detailed illustrations, featuring teeming organic forms which bring its religious text to life. These illustrations were incredibly labor intensive and show an undeniable level of devotion, labor, and skill. A millennia later, Harrison’s renderings demonstrate an equal level of devotion and exertion, though for a different cause. Her vibrant pigments sharply contrast with the blank white background, forcing the viewer to focus on minuscule details and dizzying intertwined forms, which she recreates deftly.

Her fantastic illustration, along with numerous other reproductions of medieval manuscripts, was sponsored as part of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) in an effort to instill public confidence in government-subsidized projects following the Great Depression. Along with changing public perception, this federally funded project also aimed to catalog and elevate the work of artists in the United States, showing a commitment to the social and economic value of artistic labor. Along with works of so-called fine art, this project also elevated other types of art production in the United States, including illustration and arts and crafts, which featured far more works by women.

Harrison’s valued contributions to the PWAP show an estimation of her time, effort, and skill as a female working artist. Her work in the Seattle Art Museum’s permanent collection help continues to celebrate her contributions to the artistic community in Seattle, and participate in the long legacy of hard work and dedication of women artists.

Siri Benn, Curatorial Intern

Image: Illumination from the Book of Kells, from the Series, Examples of Illumination and Heraldry, Federal Public works of Art Project, Region #16, Washington State, 1934 or 1935, Theodora Harrison, ink and watercolor on simulated vellum, sheet size: 7 3/4 x 10 3/4 in., Federal Public Works of Art Project, Region #16, Washington State, 2013.6.8 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

[1] “International Women’s Day History | International Women’s Day | The University of Chicago,”  https://iwd.uchicago.edu/page/international-womens-day-history#1909TheFirstNationalWoman’sDayintheUS
[2] “Book of Kells,” https://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v
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Object of the Week: Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper

In recognition of International Women’s Day, as well as Women’s History Month, this week we look at Mary Beth Edelson’s Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper. Printed during a historic decade of feminist activity, this 1972 lithograph takes Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Last Supper and replaces the biblical male figures with contemporary female artists. Jesus, represented instead as Georgia O’Keeffe, sits at the center of the (literal and proverbial) table alongside a number of other pioneering women artists: Miriam Schapiro, Hannah Wilke, Yoko Ono, Faith Ringgold, Lee Bontecou, Eleanor Antin, Agnes Martin, Lee Krasner, Carolee Schneeman, Lynda Benglis, Alice Neel—the list goes on. In the spirit of this feminist work, one that gives representation to an international and overlooked roster of women, below are four quotes from four generations of feminist writers, philosophers, and activists: Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), Luce Irigaray (b. 1930), bell hooks (b. 1952), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (b. 1977).

 To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue nonetheless to exist for him also: mutually recognising each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other. The reciprocity of their relations will not do away with the miracles—desire, possession, love, dream, adventure—worked by the division of human beings into two separate categories; and the words that move us—giving, conquering, uniting—will not lose their meaning. On the contrary, when we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form.

– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1952[1]  

How can I say it? That we are women from the start. That we don’t have to be turned into women by them, labeled by them, made holy and profaned by them. That that has always already happened, without their efforts. And that their history, their stories, constitute the locus of our displacement. It’s not that we have a territory of our own; but their fatherland, family, home, discourse, imprison us in enclosed spaces where we cannot keep on moving, living, as ourselves. Their properties are our exile.

– Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 1977[2]

Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and practice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving.

– bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics, 2000[3]

Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.

– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists, 2014[4]

[1] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Knopf, 1952), 767.

[2] Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 212.

[3] bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics (New York: Routledge, 2000), 123-124.

[4] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists (New York: Anchor Books, 2014), n.p.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, 1972, Mary Beth Edelson, offset lithograph, 37 1/2 in. x 20 3/4 in., Leonardo Lives Exhibition Fund, 98.14 © Mary Beth Edelson
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