By Puloma Ghosh
East Boston, MA – “Engendered” captures a small but important conversation about gender by local artists of many ages and backgrounds in a gallery by the sea. Between the peaceful sounds of the ocean and boats, each piece stands out with a loud statement about the nature of gender and society and how it affects the individual.
“I have been working with the transgender population for a long time,” said curator Samantha Marder, explaining her desire to explore the subject of gender through artwork, “So I was curious, after 17 years, about what other people might say about gender, and hopefully not from just the ‘isn’t that funny, a boy in a girl’s dress’ perspective, but more fully rounded.” The variation in subject and medium of the pieces she selected succeeded in giving a well-rounded perspective on the issue.
Some pieces in the show stand out as weighty statements on the serious conflict presented by the confines of gender on an individual. Adric Giles’ piece, “Confined,” literally represents this by showing an amorphous humanoid figure being crushed and constrained by the frame it is painted in. The ambiguous nature of the figure makes its gender unclear, giving a representation of a person conflicted about his, her or zis gender identity, forced into the boxes created by society.
Rebeccah Ulm’s “Putting My Face On” is a short film of the artist applying lipstick first on her lips, and then all over her face, coloring in her skin in bright Revlon red. The piece successfully explores definition of female beauty, and also the performance of identity. The slow, precise movements of the artist as she applies the lipstick gives a sense of the deliberate way women are expected to construct their identities and “put our face on” according to standards of beauty and sexuality.
Meanwhile, there are some pieces that are playful, tinted with innocence and nostalgia. Leigh Hall’s photomontages, “Pink and Blue,” are two neatly composed medleys each containing gender-specific toys that are fed to us from the moment we enter this world. “When a baby gets wrapped in a pink or blue blanket, throughout its exposure to mass media and popular culture, it is getting a message about what sort of person (s)he would grow up to be.” Hall explained in her artist statement. The images she chooses are familiar and nostalgic to most Americans, and really brings forth, not only from the photographs but also from the memories and associations of the viewer, a reminder of these messages we are constantly receiving.
Katrina Majkut’s “In Control” and “Plan B” juxtaposes the very traditionally feminine medium of needlepoint with images of birth control, one of the most successful methods of empowering women sexually and as individuals in the modern era. The detail in the stitching is impressive, capturing every little line on the packaging of both birth control pills and a box of Plan B contraceptive.
“Engendered” presents an eclectic array of pieces that contributes a unique element to the discussion created by the exhibit as a whole. Coming from the perspectives of individuals who constantly face and question gender and what it means to be “man” or “woman,” the works featured create a multifaceted and intriguing perspective on a frequently debated issue.
(“Engendered” is on display through July 7 at the Atlantic Works Gallery, 80 Border Street, East Boston, Mass. The gallery is open Fridays and Saturdays from 2 – 6 p.m. with a Third Thursday party on June 19 from 6-9 p.m.)