Women who believe the system is not organized in their interest can speak out. Sometimes, they speak through art.
A new fiber arts exhibit coming to the Jewish Museum Milwaukee in September is one way women and women’s advocates seek to reclaim the genre historically patronized as “women’s craft” to use it as a launching platform to speak out against patriarchal society and for social justice.
“Women Pulling at the Threads of Social Discourse,” available Sept. 8 through Dec. 31 at the museum located at 1360 N. Prospect Ave., tackles many of the current issues facing women and society today: abortion, climate change and discrimination, among others. It also confronts and protests any patriarchal systems that may have perpetuated the perception of fiber arts as women’s craft and not fine arts, according to the museum.
Molly Dubin, Jewish Museum Milwaukee curator, in an interview talked about the irony of using this medium typically thought of as “easy” and “soft” to “lambast” what is happening around the world and in society. “It’s taking that medium and turning it on its head,” Dubin says. “Women are using it for commentary, to raise awareness, to foster dialogue, and to hopefully affect change.”
The Milwaukee exhibit is a version of what originally began as a collaboration between The Contemporary Art Modern Project (The CAMP Gallery) and the Fiber Artists Miami Association (FAMA) that started in 2020. Since then, it has evolved to include regional artists and their perspectives.
Bayside fiber artist Judy Zoelzer Levine made a quilt about migration and the plight of refugees, titled “Life in Limbo.” Featuring stitched outlines of faceless people carrying their belongings, crouching down or holding a child to represent the often facelessness of migrants in society, the quilt’s edges are burnt with words like “abuse,” “disease,” “hunger,” “oppression,” “poverty,” and “climate” stitched into a tan linen border.
“Allegory of Sisterhood II” is textile artist Shelly McCoy’s reimagination of an American flag, its stars and stripes replaced with blue and white bras and red and white garments of women’s clothing. At about 14’ by 21,’ the installation stands tall among the 30 pieces – 20 from past exhibitions and 10 new from the Midwest – specifically curated for Jewish Museum Milwaukee.
“The exhibition packs a punch,” said Debra Brehmer, director of Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee, in an email. “It clearly undermines the decorative, domestic roles of textiles, drawing the field into a social arena of activism, where it rightfully might belong.”
Brehmer, an art historian, is a member of the JMM exhibition committee. “I hope it will provide pathways for many people to find other forms of discourse and debate outside of Twitter and social networks,” she says. “I also hope it will expand the visitors’ thinking around textiles, which have now fully entered the contemporary art world and are here to stay.”
The opening preview is Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.
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WHAT: “Women Pulling at the Threads of Social Discourse”
WHERE: Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N. Prospect Ave.
WHEN: Sept. 8-Dec. 31
FEE: $9 for adults. Reservations are encouraged
For more information: JewishMuseumMilwaukee.org