Influences of Gender and the Southwest

Influences of Gender and the Southwest

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Influences of Gender and the Southwest

Gender influences women artists in many ways. Some artists utilize their artwork to combat sexism. Others portray gender through their art in different ways than male artist might. Additionally, the careers of women artists may be influenced by their gender (or physical sex).

The influence of the southwest is also very visible in the artwork of many artists who live or have lived here. Some are influenced by the diverse cultures who make this region their home. Others are influenced by the landscape. (I realize that this paper is not representative of all of the cultures which have helped to shape the southwest. This was not intentional. It is primarily because, regretably, I had a hard time finding resources on women artists in the Southwest who were from cultures other than Euro-American, Native American and Mexican-American.)

Through this paper, I hope to be able to show examples of a few of the many ways in which gender and the southwest influence the lives and careers of southwestern women artists, and in turn, how many of these artists utilize their art to change people's perceptions of gender, the southwest and southwestern cultures.

One artist whose art is strongly influenced by living in the southwest is Roz Driscoll. Driscoll lived in Arizona for seven years during the 1970's. According to Driscoll, the pieces in her exhibit, A Sense of Touch, " . . . grew out of traditions such as Native American pueblos, Indian temples and wells, Egyptian tombs. They reflect themes as, plateaus, and canyons of the Southwest . . ." (1999)

Another artist whose work was strongly influenced by the Southwest is Georgia O'Keeffe, whose art was strongly influenced by the landscape of New Mexico. In fact, " . . . that region's dramatic mesas, ancient Spanish architecture, vegetation, and desiccated terrain became her constant themes. ( Gale, 1998 )

Culture differences in the Southwest have also been portrayed through the artwork of many Southwestern women artists.

The artwork of Carmen Lomas Garza, who has spent much of her life in Texas, is strongly influenced by her Chicana heritage.

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In 1969, while Garza was attending the Texas University of Arts and Industries, Garza organized a show of Chicano art for the first national conference of the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO). (Hedges and Wendt, 1980, p. 111) Garza also utilizes her own artwork to, " . . . define and reinforce her positive self-image as a Chicana and the cultural identity of other Mexican Americans who, like herself, have been alienated from their ethnic community by the imposition of the larger society's values." (Hedges and Wendt, 1980, p. 111) She does this partly by combining her personal style with the traditional styles of Mexican folk art.

Wendy Rose, who is primarily American Indian (Hopi and Chowchilla Miwok) but is also partly German and England, like Garza portrays symbols and traditions from her cultural background in her artwork. Rose has,

" . . . transformed rejection into a source of strength. In her many self-portraits (which do not always resemble her physically) she identifies her various feelings and ideas with figures from her ancestral past, speaking also for her people-retelling and revitalizing stories which have been lost, devalued, or misinterpreted in American history and literature." (Hedges and Wendt, 1980, p. 195)

Women artists are often faced with challenges which male artists may not face. For example, in the past, women were not encouraged to work outside of the home. Other women artists may face difficulties in finding time to create artwork, due to having to take care of children. Even women who did not face the demands of having to care for children may have not had as many financial resources available to them as their male counterparts. Additionally, especially in the past, women did not have as many educational opportunities as men. In fact, " . . . it was not until the 1870's that women gained access to a higher education equivalent to that which had been available to men in the United States since the seventeenth century. (Hedges and Wendt, 1980, p. 77) Additionally, women artists have to combat many stereotypes of women. Women have been considered less intelligent than men and as, " . . . less worthy of education, and too weak to venture out alone to seek their fortunes." (Hedges and Wendt, 1980, p. 77)

Even those women who do manage to establish careers in the art field may still face sexism and stereotypes. For example, Bailey Doogan, who is currently a professor at the University of Arizona, as well as an award winning artist, faced an interesting challenge during one of her first jobs as an artist. She attended a meeting at a men's club with a prospective client who had not realized that he would be meeting with a woman. (Byerly, 1999)

Carmen Lomas Garza also has faced sexism in her career. She has found that the majority of Chicano artists are males. Additionally, many of these artists have a very narrow definition of artwork. According to many of them, "Anything outside of that is not Chicano art and you're not a Chicano. It really bothers me because it's a very unexplored narrow way to define." (Garza, 1980, p. 202)

Rather than calmly accepting the stereotypes applied to women, many women artists choose to utilize art as a tool to combat these stereotypes and others which are applied to themselves and others by mainstream society.

One woman artist who is working to change stereotypes of women is Bailey Doogan, who, " . . . has made a specialty of painting women's real-life bodies, the seams and folds of their middle-aged flesh lovingly rendered." ( Tucson Weekly, 1995) By doing this, Doogan, " . . . challenges our cultural discomfort with . . . body changes, and probes limiting anti-woman stereotypes of all stripes." ( Regan, 1998 ) It is also Doogan's , ". . . intention to chart woman's uneasy place in the culture." ( Tucson Weekly, 1995) Doogan's nudes are quite different than those traditionally painted by male artists. These male renditions typically portray women as subjective (Berger, 1972, 46) as well as being beautiful objects painted for male viewers (Berger, 1972, p. 51). Unlike these traditional nudes, Doogan's nudes are not traditionally aesthetically pleasing. Doogan additionally challenges the traditional European stereotypes in pieces such as "Angry Aging Bitch (RIB)" and "Virgin/Whore (GO)". ( Regan, 1998)

Harmony Hammond, who is also a well known artist and a professor of the University of Arizona also utilizes her artwork to confront gender issues. In her University of Arizona Museum of Art exhibit Landscapes of Exploitation, Hammond explored the usage of the landscape as a metaphor for women and their bodies from a woman's perspective. (Lafrenz, 1999, p. 14) She does this by incorporating found objects, such as kettles and pots, which are related to the roles of rural American women into her artwork in such a way that they, " . . . convey a sense of the oppression and domestication of women in their daily lives and duties," as well as portraying, " . . . a sense of the oppression and domestication of women in their daily lives and duties." (Lafrenz, 1999, p. 14)

Another Southwestern woman whose artwork helps to change viewers perceptions of gender is Pamela Joseph . Josephcurrently resides in Colorado. Says Joseph, "My paintings serve only to enhance woman's stature." ( 1997 ) For example, in her Calendar Girls Series , Joseph transforms the historical pin-up image by painting the women " . . . in oils, with heat transfers on full-size police shooting targets, then laminated and hung by grommets on the wall." ( 1997, p.1) Each of the women depicted, " . . . is a composite of the complex facets of the personality embodied by that month's events."

In addition to fighting stereotypes of women in their artwork, some Southwesert women artists also combat cultural stereotypes.

Melanie Andrew Yazzie , a Navajo woman, in her multimedia piece, Raggedy Ann, filled a trunk with items and keepsakes that remind her of her family. The trunks themselves are from her boarding school years. Behind the trunk is a Navajo rug, which,

" . . . was chosen from The Heard Museum's permanent collection because of the presence of the woman. The rug is truly unique for its time. The woman is holding an arch, a rainbow, showing her strength and quite possibly her oneness with her natural surroundings." ( 1997 )

Another American Indian (Seminole/Creek/Navajo) woman from the Southwest, Hulleah J. L. Tsinhnahjinnie , in her piece, Grandma and Me, corrects the "presumptuous claims of ownership and kinship" depicted in a 1950's centerfold collage on "Arizona's Navajo Land" in Arizona Highways magazine. She does this by inserting photographs of herself and her grandmother into the collage and writing the captions in Dine' (Navajo). Tsinhnahjinnie does this because she feels that the Dine' captions,

" . . . recognize intamacy and responsibility, whearas an Arizona Highways' caption, "Aged Navajo," denies a whole range of possible identities -- a council woman, a medicine woman, a master rug weaver, a star gazer, a translator, a teacher, a writer, a singer, a traveler, an organizer, a woman of thought." ( 1997, p. 2)

Naranjo-Morse (Santa Clara Pueblo), also utilizes her artwork to challenge hegemonic notions of women and of Native Americans. In her multi-media installation A Pueblo Woman's Clothesline, as Naranjo-Morse writes,

" . . . by hanging on this line garments that are clues to my personality, sexuality, social and political concerns, and connections to cultural traditions -- I am able to look at the messages that I send to the world and community as a Native woman of the late twentieth century."( 1997, p. 1)

One final Native American woman who helps to unravel misconceptions of women and of Native Americans, is Jean LaMarr (Paiute/Pit River) LaMarr's multimedia installation Minniehaha Lives is her response to popular images of American Indian Women created by Europeans, such as the princess/squaw dichotomy. In these European images, tribes are often mixed together. Additionally, "When a Native woman subject is not a sexual commodity, a baby or 'papoose' is added for allure and charm." ( 1997, p. 2-3)

As I have shown in this paper, Southwestern women artists are both influenced by society's perceptions of gender, cultures, and the southwest, and help to influence society's perceptions of these stereotypes. Instead of taking a passive role, many of these women are helping to change the way people think. Many women artists still face challenges due to misconceptions, but thanks largely to their own work, these stereotypes are improving, and hopefully may disappear sometime in the future.

The Southwest and its cultures, people and landscapes are very diverse. I have shown a small example of this diversity in this paper, however, due to a lack of resources and time, there are many aspects of the Southwest which I have not shown, such as the influence of the Chinese population who helped to build the railroads and stayed to help sculpt the southwest as we know it today. Or the influence of the African American Buffalo Soldiers who fought for justice here during the civil war. Or the Jewish population, or the gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans/questioning population, or the Middle-Eastern American population, or . . . the list goes on and on. Another characteristic of the Southwest is the diversity of landscape, which ranges from forests to deserts, from plateaus to praries, with virtually everything in between.

Throughout the history of the Southwest, both before and after the arrival of non-Native peoples, women have been an important part of history, which, sadly, has often not been acknowledged by predominantly white male historians. Also, throughout history, women have created art, even in cultures where women's art was not considered to be art at the time of its creation. Thanks in large part to women artists themselves, their own presence is finally begininning to be acknowledged. However, there is still a long path ahead of us all in the fight for human equality. I believe that art will is one of the many very effective tools which is being utilized in this battle.


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