REVIEW: ‘Voices: Women Artists in the Era of Second Wave Feminism’

"Voices: Women Artists in the Era of Second Wave Feminism" on display at Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art. (Benjamin Voller | Collegian Media Group)

The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art is holding an exhibit that showcases the era of second-wave feminism and demonstrates how marginalized artists made their voices heard. The four distinct works in the exhibition, “Voices: Women Artists in the Era of Second Wave Feminism,” take the observer through the stories of artists in this controversial time.

There are three separate waves of feminism: the right to vote, the right to be equal under the law, and the ongoing battle for equality in practice. The exhibit focuses solely on the battle to be equal under the law in every facet of personal life; “The Personal is Political” as their slogan went. Not all of these artists describe themselves as feminists, but nonetheless these pieces reflect a time when women were legally and socially second-class citizens. 

The first work to catch the eye is a series of eight embossed paintings by Judith Bledsoe. As the title, “Eight Gallant Ladies and their Animal Friends,” suggests, these paintings depict eight women enjoying the comfort of their pets. The complex meaning only comes into play when considering the context of the time period. These women, shown in comfort, are not for sexual appeal — a rarity in the media of the time. They are meant to be appreciated for their majesty, even though the piece was painted during a time when a woman’s worth was based on her ability to appeal to the man’s eye.

Bledsoe’s apparently simplistic style becomes more complex as the observer focuses on any given shape and discovers the complicated line patterns that make up the work. Still, it is not until one considers the embossed edges of these paintings — where complex patterns hand-carved by Bledsoe were pressed into the paper — that the viewer appreciates the mastery. 

To the left, out of the corner of the eye, an abstract watercolor done by Alice Baber exemplifies the expression of color and light for which the artist was renowned. 

“I feel that an abstract painting is outer space, and I am in front of it, suspended in outer space, so that there isn’t any horizon line,” Baber said in an interview in 1973.

Abstract art can be a difficult subject to grasp but equally rewarding to do so. Though this piece may not at first express the idea of feminism, it gives the viewer a sense of freedom and boundlessness for which feminists of the time undoubtedly strived for.

The Golden River by Alice Baber on display at the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art as part of Voices: Women Artists in the Era of Second Wave Feminism. (Benjamin Voller | Collegian Media Group)

The next piece on this wall is a much more foreboding presence. It depicts three bare, pregnant women in the foreground, and countless struggling figures top a flat map in the background. The artist, Caroline Thorington, a Kansas State graduate, etched this piece out of dark metal, giving a dim and heavy appearance to the piece. The three women are called “moira,” suggesting they are divine, destined, or something beyond human will. They evoke a sense of beauty and power even in their struggle and the struggle of millions behind them. This piece is a celebration of women in a time of turmoil.

Farther to the left, the last piece of this exhibit is a mix of bright color and harsh, repetitive words. This collage of essays by Jenny Holzer attacks the senses with an overwhelming surge of anger and injustice. Taking in all the excerpts is a shock and will give the viewer a look into the righteous rage these women felt while striving for equality.

After viewing these pieces, it is worth remembering that the second wave of feminism culminated in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision as well as the Equal Rights amendment, one of which has been overturned recently, leaving at least part of these artists’ wills unrealized and struggles in vain. This exhibit is located in the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, completely free for all until December 16. The firsthand view into history these pieces allow for is beyond anything that can be read or watched.