Given the broad spectrum of styles and imagery on display, this group show, appropriately called the “Women of the World” art and photography exhibition, could be the most eclectic collection of women artists ever assembled on Long Island.
And just as fitting as its ambitious title, one singular museum or art gallery could not contain this exhibit. So for its opening night, it began with a gala award ceremony on Feb. 26 at the offices of the Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos in the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola—an untraditional venue to say the least—before moving to the Hutchins Gallery at C.W. Post College in Brookville, where the show will run in an expanded form through March 29 in conjunction with Women’s History Month.
Seen as a celebration of women’s diverse experiences and backgrounds—through the eyes of more than 50 contemporary artists—the show has everything from abstract expressionism to photo realism. Just to sample a few, there’s a colorful photo of a Peruvian grandmother cradling a child in the Andes, a drawing of an African-American slave in the 19th century, and a painting of a young woman standing under a mountain stream in a yoga pose.
Tying it all together is its curator, an artist in her own right, Jill Rader Levine, who has a master of visual arts degree, and is an accomplished photojournalist and interior designer. An acquaintance of Maragos, she came up with the theme: artworks that show the “feminine mystique” in the medium of the artist’s choosing.
She told the artists she selected that their work didn’t necessarily have to be representational but it had to be relatively recent.
“I said it doesn’t have to be a real woman,” Levine says she told them. “It could be something feminine. But when people look at it, they must see ‘feminine.’ ”
The results run the gamut.
“We have motherhood. We have death. We have joy,” says Levine. “We have every mood expressed. Every style.”
Levine said that some of the creations on display are dedicated to the special people in the lives of these artists.
“One woman did a pencil drawing of her grandmother on her wedding day,” Levine says.
Last fall Levine started reaching out to artists and photographers. Then she lined up the judges—a combination of industry experts, prominent members of the art community and academic professionals—for the opening gala ceremony, with winners in fine arts and photography awarded prizes from local business sponsors, including a free tattoo.
Comptroller Maragos said he was eager to host this exhibit in order to promote local artists and contribute to the growing arts industry in Nassau County.
“Nassau County is home to some of the most talented artists in the country,” said Maragos in a statement. “The comptroller’s office is always ready to support our local businesses, artists and entrepreneurs.”
Serving as judges for the opening night event were Donna Tuman, chair of the C.W. Post art department; Joan Powers, director of photography at C.W. Post; Professor Marc Kopman of the Hutton House Lecture Series at C.W. Post; Professor Thomas Germano of Farmingdale State College; Tom Sammon, an accomplished Long Island artist; Ken Sawchuk, Newsday’s photo editor; Fatima White, art education director at the African American Museum of Nassau County; and Regina Gil, director of the Great Neck Arts Center.
Levine invited women she’d shown with and whose work she’d admired, as well as women she’d taken classes with, and who belong to organizations she’s also member of. Then it grew from there.
“And they started saying, ‘I have a wonderful friend! Would you like to consider adding her to the show?’ ”
So Levine would look at the woman’s work, and if she felt it was compatible with her theme, she would invite the artist to participate in this group show.
Serendipity also happily played a role in the process, Levine says, recalling how she came across the work of Maya Trimner, “a great portrait artist,” whom she encountered at an artists’ workshop.
“We were working on a model,” says Levine. “I turned around to wash my hands. Her easel was behind me… This is how I would find people. She sent me a pencil drawing of a slave. She found this woman in the national records, and wrote how this woman jumped out of the pages of history and spoke to her.”
In Trimner’s evocative drawing, the elderly slave woman, whose white curly hair forms almost a halo around her, is grimly staring off into space, her eyes luminescent with sorrow and yet a spark of light.
In the fluid black and gold cubistic painting, “Three Graces,” Ennid Berger drew from Greek mythology, where the three goddesses represented charm, beauty and creativity. She also referenced Picasso’s abstracted portrayal of women found in African art as well as classical renditions by Botticelli, Rafael and Reubens. The women’s figures are distinct against a lively background of smooth curves, bold lines and sharp edges.
“The three figures in my painting emerged as a contemporary celebration of strength, feminism and creativity,” she explained in an email.
Alecia Rey, an award-winning tattoo artist, was inspired by the World War II poster of “Rosie the Riveter” to create her self-portrait she dubbed: “Alecia the Riveter.” Her version shows her with her sleeve rolled up to show off her tattooed arm, a triumphant smile on her face, her hair in a polka dot bandana and an ink gun in her hand.
A story from the Hindu epic The Mahabharata prompted Anu Annam to create her provocative painting, “Blind Wife,” that depicts a young blindfolded woman facing forward. In the tale, Gandhari ties her eyes shut for life out of respect for her new husband, Dhritarashtra “so that she would not have any more benefits in life than him,” Annam explained in an email. At first glance the image conveys a host of ambivalent meanings, either blind justice or someone condemned to a firing squad. But a direct political message was not Annam’s intention.
“I often see nobility in sacrifice,” Annam said, “but I see this action as excessive, and only shows that she is willing to ‘blindly follow’ social mores, and in turn, her husband. She could have kindly aided him if she was sighted.”
For her multi-layered photograph “No War,” Katherine Criss explained that she saw an anti-war graffiti sprayed in blue on a concrete wall along Riverside Drive in Manhattan and then took another image moments later of a young woman jogging past her. The superimposed words seem to float out of the plane of the photograph and hover in the mind of the curly-haired runner.
“The resulting photograph transcends both layers,” Criss said in an email. “A successful image for me is created in meditation reflecting on the irony in life.”
Levine said she was thrilled by how the show came together so smoothly and the final offerings exceeded her expectations. Her hope was “for each one of the artists to express themselves because I knew that they would all have something amazing,” she says, glowingly. “It just worked out perfectly.”
Asked to name her favorite piece of art in the exhibit, she wisely demurred.
“I love them all—that’s true!” she declared.
The “Women of the World” Long Island art & photography exhibition will be on display at the Hutchins Gallery in the main library at the C.W. Post campus beginning March 4 and will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 to 5 p.m., until March 29. For more information, contact [email protected]