Art 'Work': Concordia exhibit shows a woman's place in the gallery

MOORHEAD -- Walk up the east stairs to the Cyrus M. Running Gallery at Concordia College and you're greeted by what looks like a quilt of tanned female body parts hanging on the wall.
Kel Mur's "Women's Work" shows the female body as building blocks of domestic labor. Special to The Forum

MOORHEAD - Walk up the east stairs to the Cyrus M. Running Gallery at Concordia College and you're greeted by what looks like a quilt of tanned female body parts hanging on the wall.

"This piece gets a strong reaction from people because it's a little disturbing to look at, but that's the artist's point," says Mallory Nermoe, the co-director of the gallery.

"This visceral aesthetic was intentional," states Kel Mur in her artist's statement. "I wanted the piece to have the look of leather or a pelt, something that a hunter would wear or display as a trophy of his skills."

The resin and waxed linen body parts are sewn together in a grid as an allegory for how women carry the burden of familial labor.

The piece is called "Women's Work," sharing a name with the exhibit Nermoe curated. The show is part of this week's annual Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium at Concordia on the theme, "Power Plays: Why Gender Matters."

"You engage with art in a very different way than when you're going to listen to a speaker," says Darcie Sell, symposium co-chair. "The mental process is very different and it can often feel very personal. We want people to engage in a topic that can be difficult to discuss and reflect on how gender affects their lives."

Rectifying sexism

Related content

The display showcases more than 20 female artists from around the country responding to inequity at home, at work and even at play.

Kyleah Rusch's photograph, "Like a Girl," is a self-portrait wearing athletic eye black. The title refers to intended insults like, "You run like a girl" or "You throw like a girl," and embodies "the scornful backlash we receive when we choose to speak out" against sexism. The piece carries added significance in light of Serena Williams' treatment at and following the U.S. Open earlier this month for what she said and also what she wore.

Clothing is a theme in a number of pieces, none as resonating as "America's Dirty Laundry." The piece, by an unnamed artist, is a clothesline with a pair of red panties in the center, worn by the artist the night she was raped. To either side hang white underwear, men's and women's, embroidered in red with facts about sexual assaults, like "Female college students are 3x more likely to be raped."

"This is the most moving piece," Nermoe says. "I think it's really remarkable that she's been able to find healing and resilience in art."

Nearby sits Kiley Friese's carved black trunk, "Onyx." A woman in a male-dominated profession, the Minneapolis furniture designer challenges gender identity not only in job roles, but in objects, pointing out how some furniture is described as feminine and some as masculine.

"Woodworking has been seen for a long time as not feminine and not open to women," Nermoe says.

Some artists embrace what have been traditional female arts and crafts, like sewing.

A dress by Minneapolis-based costume designer Sonya Berlovitz displayed on a dress form literally weaves together fabric from generations, with handiwork from her mother and grandmother.

"This exemplifies that women can and should be considered in high art," Nermoe says.

Nearby is another take on fabric art with Laurie Borggreve's "Spread," a play on seemingly contradictory notions of "submissive and in control, delicate and strong, playful and dark." A Venus figurine is held against a dark background with a banner over her eyes and feet and outlined in pins. Radiating out, the pinheads become larger with circles of leather turned into flower shapes on the outer edges.

At the south entrance of the gallery stand a trio of portraits like sentries by Sioux Falls, S.D., artist Klaire A. Lockheart. They stand in commanding poses, glaring at the viewer as if disturbed in the midst of cleaning. Their costumes stand in contrast, wearing aprons and fetishistic footwear, pushing the paradoxical stereotype of a woman's place in the home, a combination of domesticity and sensuality.

Lockheart joins fellow artists Annika Hansen, Abigail Whitmore and Concordia almuna Amy Sands in a panel discussion hosted by Dayna Del Val, the President and CEO of The Arts Partnership, on Tuesday, Sept. 18.

"In the art world, there is this huge issue (of sexism)," Nermoe says. "This show rectifies that situation by giving women a place to show their art and tell their stories."

If you go

What: "Women's Work" reception

When: 4 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, with a panel discussion from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Where: Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre, Concordia College, Moorhead

Info: This event is free and open to the public.

Symposium highlights

Concordia College's annual Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium will take place Sept. 18 and Wednesday, Sept. 19, with most events held in Memorial Auditorium.

Author and activist Rebecca Walker will speak 7:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday. On Wednesday, Jackson Katz of Mentors in Violence Prevention will present 9 to 10:15 a.m. Debra Fitzpatrick of the University of Minnesota's Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy is scheduled to speak 10:45 a.m. to noon Wednesday.

For a complete schedule of events, visit www.concordiacollege.edu/symposium.