Sex, gender and cultural backgrounds go a long way in defining the windows artists render to share their thoughts with the world. The Verde Gallery’s current exhibition, Emergence: International Women in the Arts-currently running through May 21-capitalizes on the nexus of converging and overlapping styles that inhabit East Central Illinois’ population of female artists. By collecting a diverse representation of mediums and aesthetics, the display foregrounds the inspirations and sociopolitical dynamics in the works of women from East Asian, African and American backgrounds.
“I attempt at Verde to feature art and performance that is both creatively accomplished and socially/culturally uplifting for the community,” states Curt Tucker, the owner of the Verde. The gallery has always remained true to this vision, and Emergence is no exception, offering a unique look into the personal and cultural landscapes of the locale.
“I was approached by Siti Mariah Jackson many months ago about being involved in an International Women’s Show that occurs outside the USA, which she had been a part of in the past,” says Tucker. The planning stages kicked off after Jackson’s proposal in 2004. “After some negotiation with that organization it was decided that we should do it on our own,” he explains. The busy months that followed involved a diligent search of the local talent that eventually culminated in the richly representative collage now on display.
“Although it required months of coordinating and planning the various programs, I found much pleasure and understanding in locating and finding these talented international women artists living in Champaign/Urbana and the surrounding area,” Jackson recalls in her curatorial overview. The billing of artists to be displayed on the floor grew to 16 names, including Jackson and Verde assistant Kelly White, who is co-curating Emergence.
Jackson, a native of Kedah, Malaysia, and former elected member of the International Women Artists Council based in Penang, contributed several works to the exhibit include ceramic and painted works that function materially and visually as records of her life. One of these is her watercolor piece “Quiet Melody,” for example, of which she states, “I tried to create and express a sentimental song of love within a peaceful atmospheric background. It is part of a continuing watercolor series which I started in 2002 – 2004 entitled ‘Siti’s Diary,’ a chronicle of my personal life experiences.”
The easy natural imagery of Jackson’s work balances well with more confrontational and conflicted visages. Among these are White’s pieces, which-as she states-reflect her preoccupation with recollection. White, who was born to British parents in Luanshya, Zambia, and later moved to the United States, takes a much more direct approach to her viewers through self-portrait and symbolism.
“The past with its selective reminiscence tends to comfort me, while the idea of the future generates feelings of apprehension and allegories of isolation,” she explains in her artist’s statement. The emotional contemplation flowing through her iconographic expression reaches out to the view with a shared sense of interrogation.
“Through the process of attempting to translate these anxieties onto the painted surface, I expose deeper layers and generate a more tangible object to assist in my exploration,” White says. “At times it all feels too literal, self-indulgent and deeply vulnerable, but yet still a satisfying and necessary part of an intriguing journey waiting to be cultivated and exposed with abandon.”
Equally as gripping are the expressions on the painted masks of returning Verde face Hua Nian. The artist created her showcased pieces during her second year in the United States, where she moved after growing up and teaching in mainland China. “I was very excited and dazzled by this highly materialist modern world,” she states, “by new ideas and the sudden freedom for which I was completely unprepared after growing up in mainland China.”
The faces reflect not only her expressed reactions but those withheld and suppressed as well. “I felt a deep shadow for the people I left behind in my homeland,” she remarks. “Struggling with these ambivalent feelings, I found myself being strongly drawn by those African masks-eyes slightly closed, mouth loosely opened, no curiosity, no surprise, no precaution, no desire, no pain, no joy, no worries.”
The array of styles and methods covers a spectrum of techniques in painting, ceramic, sculpture and jewelry, in addition to animate presentations through video installation, fashion, music and dance. Featured events occurring throughout April and May include live music, informal artist lectures, and a book signing by Linda Scott, author of the book Fresh Lipstick.