Revisiting a Classic Art Show That Explores Race and Gender

Read about A.I.R. Gallery’s latest impactful show in which an exhibition held in 1980 is revisited with a contemporary twist. Find out about the message behind the exhibition.

Originally set up in 1972, A.I.R. was the very first cooperative run by artists who were all female – the very embodiment of second-wave feminism. As with most of these groups, the majority of those involved were white, an unfortunate reality at the time but one that the gallery would go on to address in an important show at the dawn of the 1980s.

Dialects – Revisited

In 1980 A.I.R. showcased the work of women of color in an exhibition called ‘Dialects of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists in the United States’. The show highlighted women’s concerns that were being overlooked by the world. As part of the gallery’s 45th-anniversary celebration, this historically important show has been revisited under the updated title ‘Dialects of Entanglement: Do We Exist Together?’

A Celebration of Difference

The eight main contributors to the 1980 show feature once again in the new event, some with the same pieces they contributed to the original show. A.I.R.’s curators have also added additional pieces from selected artists and writers. New essays, a video and a reading provide a ‘contemporary framing’ for the exhibition. In my opinion, this fresh contextualization has rounded off the art at the core of the show by prompting viewers to seek out connections between the artworks. I feel that it has even given the entire event an atmosphere of celebration, an air of reveling in differences.

Dana Sheves - Howardena-Pindell_Free-White-and-21-Kopie

Highlighting Connections

The 1980 show was deliberately constructed as a heterogeneous event. This lent the exhibition a dynamic quality that makes it enduringly relevant in today’s world and that should inspire the visitor to search for linkages among the works exhibited. A good example is the way that Howardena Pindell’s ‘Free, White and 21’ (1980) — a video narrating episodes of discrimination that the artist has encountered — renders more overt the racial tensions that are suggested in ‘The Studio Visit’ (1982), a diorama in which Janet Henry depicts the visit of a white woman to the studio of a black female artist. Similarly, the concern for and attentiveness to nature that underpin Zarina’s sculptural deployment of paper pulp in “Corners” (1980) are closely affiliated with Selena W. Persico’s slide show ‘Complete View of Region in Every Direction’ (1980/2018). The spiritual sense underlying Persico’s depictions of nature, particularly shrubs, is in turn closely linked to Judith F. Baca’s drawings (1979 and 1981) of female goddesses.

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