As the year winds down, the Museum also prepares to say goodbye to our first yearlong collection show, Unapologetic: All Women, All Year. The last day to view Unapologetic in person will be Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020 before we shift into the exciting new season planned for next year. If you have yet to view the exhibition, we invite you to visit this week, or to explore the related visual and written material online from the comfort of your own home. Our hope for the exhibition is that it sparked something positive or profound with viewers, whether that be enlightenment, awareness, or even inspiration. Due to the closure of the Museum during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a planned rotation wall in the gallery space took virtual form. Periodically, we have taken a deeper look at some of SMoCA’s newest acquisitions and other exceptional works from the collection by women artists in our ongoing Museum Musings series. This week we close out the exhibition with the last work to take part in the Unapologetic rotational series, a new acquisition by the artist Forrest Solis.
Working in self-portraiture throughout her career, the human figure has always been a source of exploration for the artist. This focus on the figure—primarily her own—creates space for introspection and is catalyst for an ability to push beyond established boundaries and into the uncanny. Through disquieting storytelling, both visual and textual, Solis investigates the construction of self and identity with a unique approach to issues governing the female body.
In her series Lessons, Solis takes a measured look at gender roles and the historical legacy of ‘othering’ in the gender hierarchy. By juxtaposing antiquated children’s lessons with her own lived experiences, Solis asks the viewer to question what is established through a social collective conscious that historically works to undermine female agency. Solis’ work sparks critical thought through an emblematic pairing of the seemingly familiar with the unexpected. By using children’s illustrations Solis ushers in a false sense of security, like the lure of a nursery rhyme, to serve up cautionary tales all the more potent for their realism. In Lessons, the artist pairs the flat non-dimensionality of a painted acrylic illustration – appropriated from children’s literature—with a self-portrait painted in oil. The marriage is a jarring distinction between the illustration and the realism of the portrait, which is often a depiction of the artist mimicking actions that the ‘lesson’ warns against.
In Friendship Between Girls—one of SMoCA’s latest acquisitions—we see this stark contrast. On the left is a black and white rendition of an original antiquated text that features two little girls made-up like baby dolls. The text itself reads “Girls are apt at certain periods of their lives to be rather gushing creatures. They form most sentimental attachments for each other. They go about with their arms clasped around each other, and sit with clasped hands by the hour. Such friendships are a weakening of moral fiber, a waste of mawkish sentimentality.” There are several ways to interpret this text: as an attempt to isolate women from each other, as a warning against romantic female relationships, as an effort to elicit feelings of shame for the expression of emotion. Most of all, it is a reiteration of a pervasive trope in the landscape of oppression that the female psyche is weakened by emotion and sentimentality.
On the right side of the canvas, Solis offers a counter to the original lesson with a life-sized rendition of the artist and her sister with their backs to the viewer. They stand close together with hands clasped tight, as if blocking whoever watches from behind. As one sister leans in to whisper something in the other’s ear, she raises her hand to conceal her mouth and shifts her gaze over her shoulder. The physical closeness and trust between the two a deliberate dismissal of the admonition written on the opposite side of the canvas. When asked about her use of children’s lesson books in her artwork Solis has said, “At first, I thought wow, we’ve come so far, but then I thought . . . how far did we actually come?”
During these uncertain times, SMoCA has invited artists and staff to utilize our blog Inspire as an outlet to make meaningful connections by sharing personal reflections and insight into their practice. Explore more entries from our Museum Musings series.