‘Sensing’ Some Women

An exhibition on what it means to be a woman was not all inclusive

| 01 Oct 2022 | 04:14

A block off the Hudson in the C24 gallery in Chelsea, a new exhibit focused solely on women. “Sensing Woman,” as the show was titled, included a week’s worth of art (starting September 27) and conversations about what it means to be a woman. The show featured gynecologists, doctors and authors, as well as an abundance of physical and performative art pieces.

Many women artists today struggle with systems that largely push them out of the art world, but the creators wanted to say more. “The focus of this exhibit at its core are the issues that affect women and their physical and mental health, rather than the simple fact that they are women artists,” said Christina Massey, the curator for the exhibit. “The works address issues from the various stereotypes and expectations on women’s appearances, to the physical and medical conditions that affect women from pregnancy to abuse, while also celebrating the sensual and playful aspects of femininity.”

The walls of C24 were lined with vaginas and nude bodies.

Sculptures, paintings, and even one rug tried to capture the experience of having a female reproductive system.

Alexandra Rutsch Brock, one of the artists, showed off a collection of golden vulvas on the wall. Her inspiration came after Trump’s infamous phrase, “Grab them by the pussy.”

“That project started out as stoneware and I spray painted them gold,” she said. “People were buying them for five bucks and then putting them up publicly like a three dimensional graffiti piece, then hash tagging them ‘fuck Trump’ or ‘grab my own pussy.’” The pieces on display are made from porcelain and gold luster, retailing at $150 a piece. “Trump makes everything gold, so I’m gonna make art that’s the best, most expensive gold vagina.”

“I Am Made for This”

The opening night of “Sensing Woman” did not truly begin until Vanessa Rae (also known as Veruse) started making impromptu vocalizations to bring the crowd together. “I am going to channel the voice of the Divine Feminine to usher in the evening,” she said in advance of her performance. “It reminds me of going into give birth, which is like, ‘I don’t know how this is gonna go, but I am I made for this,’” says Rae.

At 7 p.m. she broke into song and chants that echoed the sounds of childbirth, as well of the sound of the female orgasm, sometimes making the audience join in. In the end she led to audience to the lower floor of the C24 for the real event of the night, a chat with V (formerly known as Eve Ensler), the writer behind “The Vagina Monologues.”

Largely known among feminists as a revolutionary play from the ’90s that focuses on the most intimates stories about having a vagina, “The Vagina Monologues” is now often seen as outdated for its lack of inclusivity. V discussed writing “Monologues” as well as her history of being a women’s rights activist. She opened with an encouragement for everyone to support the women in Iran right now.

V’s talk largely focused on the female reproductive system with a special concern for the vagina and the female orgasm, saying that orgasms “are right on that edge of the deepest pleasures, and the deepest grief.” She also went into how women need to connect with Gaia as an aspect of femininity in part because “women are like birds.” She also may have implied she had a conversation with a bird once.

When asked about diversity, both Massey and the producer of the event, Christine Mason, said that it was a top priority. “Sensing Woman” features artists from various ethnicities, age groups and backgrounds. “Artists like Mija Jung and Fay Ku who both address the stereotypes and expectations felt of being Asian women, but through very different approaches,” Massey said.

Contradictory Statements

However, when asked about the inclusion of any trans or genderqueer artists, Massey said that no one included was openly trans that she was aware of. Massey and Mason also seemed to give contradictory statements about what womanhood is.

“Womanhood to me is a collective experience, a shared understanding in a sense,” said Massey. Meanwhile Mason had an alternate viewpoint: “In so many ways, body or biology is destiny,” she said. “We are pointing to the lived experience of anyone whose inner organs and reproductive choices are being legislated.”

The lack of genderqueer representation led to the conflation of womanhood being centered around being assigned female at birth while works like Rae’s vocalizations reinforce the idea that womanhood is all about reproduction and childbirth. The exhibit left out representation of even cis women who can’t have or don’t want children.

“Sensing Woman, ” which ran through October 1, helped build awareness and raise money for nonprofits including the Center for Reproductive Rights. “By beginning with visual art, and adding community, storytelling, music, breathwork and ideas, ‘Sensing Woman’ offers multidimensional perception and insight on female embodiment now,” said Mason. Or at least embodiment for most women.