The Girl in the Photo

    A careful selection of mixed media — including tiny beaded figurines, brightly colored feather-dresses, enormous broom structures and Icelandic statutes — gives tremendous variety to a specifically feminist statement. The national and ethnic diversity among the artists (who come from Sweden, South Africa, Iceland, Colombia, Egypt and everywhere in between) is a constant reminder that violence against women is ubiquitous and global.

    The exhibit is divided into four sections. Each division is sectioned off, given its own informative blurb printed in bold, crisp black print on the white walls. Permutations of violence range from the expected (Violence and the Family) to the more obscure/abstract (Violence and Politics, Violence and Culture, Violence and the Individual).

    Although the textual intros are meant to convey the pressing urgency of the issues inside, overly dramatic language sometimes does deter from the meaning — much more aptly conveyed by the art itself. An apparent claim that “false laughter ringing through the halls of a high school” constitutes violence against women in the same way as a bloody domestic disturbance — albeit on a smaller scale — undermines the overall message of the exhibit into something overwrought.

    But we soon forget all about words. South Korean artist Jung Junyeob’s installation paints gray, filmy silhouettes of women onto large panels of silk hanging from the ceiling, meant to represent indistinct and anonymous female forms. Indeed, the sheer enormity of the looming panels make it near impossible to discern actual human shapes — the women therein turn more to gray brush strokes than living, breathing persons. Their thin cloth sways with the breeze, giving the impression of delicate, weak curtains on a canopy bed — ethereal and unimportant.

    Immediately beyond the silhouettes are videos by the famous (or infamous, if you like) Yoko Ono. Two monitors facing each other display variations of the same performance filmed nearly 40 years apart — in 1965 and 2003. In the video piece, appropriately named “Cut,” Ono sits on stage in a simple black dress while people walk up to her with scissors and cut off various parts of her dress. For all its avant-garde pretentiousness, the piece does exude a sense of constrained desperation as Ono attempts to remain still and composed. The videos are soundless, played on small, grainy black-and-white monitors. The installation’s understated nature — alongside the gallery’s bigger, flashier displays of violence — heighten its melancholy into a sort of claustrophobic helplessness.

    From a different Yoko — Yoko Inoue of Japan — comes an untitled piece, the same one plastered on San Diego-wide advertisements for the exhibit. In a blurry photograph dominated by shades of yellow and red, a half-naked young woman holds up an enormous, shiny metal pot that obscures her figure from nose to waist.

    The subject’s eyes, the only distinct part of her form, peer at her audience from behind the kitchenware, imbibing more power into the symbolism of the gigantic brass vessel: both an instrument of protection against domestic violence and a reminder of the society in which a woman would need this type of protection.

    Juxtaposed among the generally enormous installations and paintings is a simple beaded figurine by American artist Joyce J. Soctt, ominously named “Day After Rape, Darfur I.” The dark foot-long woman is constructed from the same seeds and crude materials a kindergartner would fiddle with in an art class, but is lifted into a very adult realm of understanding, artfully twisted into a painful and horrific pose, dripping in beads of blood. Minimal facial details and simple lines make the figurine generic and thus universal, representing each of so many women affected by Darfur.

    One of the exhibition’s few male artists, Hank Willis Thomas, delivers his own lesson in gender roles. An image titled “Are You The Right Kind of Woman For It?” looks to be a vintage magazine advertisement targeting a black audience, but all branding has been digitally removed. The original image beneath reveals the various ways in which women are “used” by the media, according to Thomas: A haughty black man casually seated among fruit baskets and plants is flanked by two women, one crouching seductively with her hand over his knee in a form-fitting striped dress, the other on his lap in a tight red dress. His statement is simple enough: The real commodity here is a beautiful woman in revealing clothing, portrayed in the advertisement as life’s fruit for the plucking.

    Walking in to the exhibit may be mollifying, but walking out leaves a feeling of empowerment. The very presence of “Off the Beaten Path” on campus — part of the Art Works for Change initiative — brings us closer to a world of artistic thought with a clear grasp on these worldwide issues of violence against women, as well as a desire to fight it.

    The exhibit will be on display until Dec. 12, coinciding with a series of talks about violence and culture taking place on campus during the month of November — the next of which will be held Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. in Pepper Canyon Hall.

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