The third biannual symposium hosted by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture, Neither Model Nor Muse highlights the striking and varied works of art created by women spanning the past three centuries.
Three art exhibits located in Perkins Library are the more lasting features of the symposium, which was held Oct. 26 to 27 and featured performances, speakers and workshops celebrating female expression.
"The purpose of these symposia is to engage the broadest possible audience with what the Bingham Center has to offer and to demonstrate that our conversations are relevant to what's going on," said Laura Micham, director of the Bingham Center.
Located in the Old Perk Gallery on the second floor of Perkins Library, Stretching the Canvas: Women Exploring the Arts and The Feminist Art Movement, 1970s-1980s are two very different exhibits showcasing the range of women's artistic expression-both in the art-making process and in the product.
Stretching the Canvas presents viewers with women expressing themselves through diverse media. Not only does the showcase include watercolors and photography-some from Duke undergraduate students-it also includes flyers for musical performances by women, underground activist zine covers and even prints of quilt patterns from the early 1970s.
"Since we have such a vast collection available to us in the archive, we wanted the materials to dictate to us what the themes and questions would be," said Amy McDonald, the exhibit's curator and a Bingham Center intern.
McDonald, with the help of N.C. State graduate student Lindsay Matson, arranged the pieces thematically, uniting them under questions such as how female artwork is regarded, how it fits into feminist ideals and how it can be used to challenge the gaze of males. For example, there is a reprint of "Pink Corset Book," a photograph by Tamar Stone of several coral-colored corsets of all sizes laid out on top of each other against a black backdrop.
The piece, placed under the question of how art can be and was used to embody feminist ideals, is one of many providing food for thought.
Differing from this exhibit both visually and content-wise, The Feminist Art Movement focuses more on notable figures of the Feminist art movement of the 1970s. Rather than focusing on the artwork created by the women, the showcase instead presents pictures of the artists, both at work and at rest.
"I wanted to show how feminism inspired women who would never consider themselves artists to use art to explore issues that the feminist movement brought up," said Beth Ann Koelsch, project archivist for the Bingham Center and the curator of this exhibit.
Among the artists celebrated in this collection, Irene Peslikis is given a special focus. One of the leading founders of the women's art movement on the East Coast, Peslikis organized the first showcase featuring Second-Wave women artists, was a key founder of the Feminist Art Institute, the NoHo gallery and the radical feminist group Redstockings, to name only a few. Peslikis' legacy both as a feminist artist and an entrepreneur is documented by pamphlets, portraits and flyers.
"I wanted to show who she was, and what kind of work she did and how she inspired others," Koelsch said.
Finally, located in the Biddle Rare Book Room exhibit cases, Hidden and Forbidden: Literary Secrets and Transgressions presents an intimate look at and into the literary creations of women.
"There is no [curatorial] arbitration of literary culture," McDonald said. "It's important to see where the literary endeavors of women turned up and to look at what it means to be literary."
From lesbian pulp fiction to copies of feminist underground zines to love letters penned by an enslaved 18th-century woman, this collection provides an insightful counterpart to the artwork of the other two exhibits. Whereas with a traditional exhibit one can only see the artist's final product, literary creations can oftentimes serve as a window into the creator's thought process and intentions.
The issues presented in the manuscripts, articles and books range from Lillian Smith's book on interracial love, Strange Fruit, to a 1970s flyer for Jane, an underground abortion service run by students and homemakers in Chicago.
"As opposed to an art gallery or museums, where there is just visual representation, because we are an archive, we have a more diverse collection including posters and flyers," Koelsch said.
Since the gallery is not a secured space, all of the pieces in the two art exhibits are reprints of the originals. However, all of the originals are available for viewing upon request at the Perkins front desk.
Visually vivid and incredibly intimate, these three exhibits together provide a diverse look into the artistic spirit of women from all walks of life spanning from the 18th century to the artwork of recent Duke graduates.
The two exhibits in the Old Perk Gallery of the Perkins Library will be up through April 2008. Hidden & Forbidden will be up through Jan. 11, 2008. Additionally, Stretching the Canvas and the Feminist Art Movement: A Gallery Talk and Reception will be held Thursday, Dec. 6 from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Old Perk Gallery.