Exhibition of ‘Muliebris’ at Saint Ben’s explores definitions of femininity by different human perspectives
February 28, 2023
By Kevin Allenspach
The College of Saint Benedict, as a school for women, may be the perfect setting for the latest fine arts exhibition to be held at Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s University.
“Muliebris: Femme Feminine Femininity” opens March 13 in the Gorecki Gallery in the Benedicta Arts Center at CSB and the title reflects the Latin meaning for woman, effeminate or feminine. The show is a juried exhibition in which 10 artists will use ceramics to explore the definition of femininity.
“We feel there are many people who can fit the description of feminine,” said Natalia Arbelaez, one of five co-organizers for The Color Network, which has engaged with CSB and SJU to produce the exhibit. “Femininity is like a scale, and anyone can have it as a part of their lives to some degree.”
TCN is an organization that seeks to aid the advancement of people of color in ceramic arts. It connects artists to mentorship, a database of opportunities and other resources. Arbelaez, a Colombian American ceramicist based in New York, oversaw three jurors who selected the artists from across the country whose work will be on display through May 8.
One of them will be Sam Shamard, a Mexican American artist and ceramicist from Austin, Texas, who recently graduated from Clemson University with a master’s in fine art. She creates altar pieces that often represent a process of looking at her familial lineage, her body and how she was taught to view it in religious spaces.
“This opportunity was really enticing to me,” said Shamard, who works at a community art center in Greenville, South Carolina, as a ceramics teacher and submitted three pieces that were accepted for Muliebris. “A lot of my work is about my experience as a Latina woman in the south, talking about spiritual experiences and my grandmother’s experience and Catholic and Evangelical spaces I grew up in. For me, the prospectus of the show was perfect for the themes that I work in. And it’s a delight, because there aren’t a lot of shows that are focused on that kind of theme.”
Shamard’s submissions include three wall-mounted altars. They are assemblages of ceramic bones mounted on wood panels. They use images reflective of Texas suburbia and Mexican familial heritage. She said they reference the Southwest where it is common to find animal bones in rural areas and as part of the iconography. She further used colors she had in her room as a young girl, wallpaper she experienced in homes at the time, and the resulting art is about what happens when all those collide.
The largest piece, “La Virgen de Suburbia,” combines influence of images of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Another, “The Garden,” is about how feminine identity can be shackling. It has gilded bones over a wallpaper of melons in a shape she calls vulvic and sensual.
“This form has been adored and worshipped for centuries, but also looked down upon,” Shamard said. “So, what does that look like? A big thing for me with this show is that it’s very seldom you get to plug into communities that will understand a lot of your reference points. Because of the relations with The Color Network and because it’s in a Catholic space at Saint Ben’s, the idea of getting an audience where people will be able to see some of my work and say, like, ‘Yeah, that is a virgin figure,’ or ‘I see what this is referencing’ and having a moment where they get it is one of the most delightful things.”
Almost twice as many candidates applied to participate in Muliebris than those whose art was chosen. In addition to Shamard, the artists whose work will be on display include:
- Mengjie Mo, a beading artist from China, who lives in Detroit. She uses the tension of beads and thread to recall typical, historical women’s labor. Only now women’s traditional skills are her new weapon to fight against patriarchy with a gentle, feminist statement.
- Maya Beverly, a multidisciplinary artist based in New York. Her sculptures often blur the line between figuration and abstraction. Her “Minima Praelia” examines the intersection between identity, technology and bodily autonomy.
- Jerrie Fabrigas, a ceramicist based in San Diego. Her purpose as an artist is to “expose the crushing pain behind perceived beauty” and to exorcise her own demons into clay. She sculpts wearable items as a “dialogue between the physical body and the intangible aspects of the self that are a culmination of personal and generational trauma, societal expectations, being a woman, and a spirit that cannot be silenced after finding its voice.”
- Vincent Frimpong, a ceramicist who is pursuing his master’s in fine arts at the University of Arkansas. Born and raised in Ghana, he continues to explore the question ‘What does it mean to be African?’ He has embraced mixed media processes to express and explore ideas regarding the richness of African history and pressing contemporary concerns addressing where we come from, where we are and where we are going.
- Ina Kaur, a printmaker who was a 2018 Emerging Voice Award recipient on behalf of the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue. Her work “No Bed for Roses” explores a relationship that is complex with what can be a place for passion, intimacy, safety and retreat as well as disease, domestic abuse and, ultimately, death.
- Isissa Komada-John, a mixed, Afro-Caribbean artist and designer, raised in Brooklyn and Queens, who works primarily in clay and on paper. She creates vessels to “manifest wishes, grieve the death of old parts, inspire acceptance, access embodied wisdom and nourish the heart.”
- Fatemah Tajaddod, a ceramic and video artist who is graduate of the Tehran University of Art is based in Lexington, Kentucky. Tajaddod cut her hair in support of the outcry around a girl in Iran who was killed because of an improper hijab. Tajaddod’s “Bowl of Patience” illustrates with irony an Iranian proverb in which it is supposed to be overflowing.
- Kiana Valtierra, a ceramicist who runs a studio in San Marcos, Texas. Valtierra’s “Once Below, Now Above” includes 114 porcelain tampons that will hang in a cluster from the ceiling varying in height from 5 to 8 feet. It focuses on Valtierra’s struggles of living with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a more advanced and serious form of premenstrual syndrome.
- Asma Waheed, a Pakistani-born American artist living in Ellicott City, Maryland, who is a master’s student in ceramics at Hood College. As a Muslim woman living in Western society – “where being seen is akin to having success,” she explores themes of reestablishing boundaries while also being seen and heard. Her exhibit of “Boundaries” expresses that struggle.
While ceramics is the main theme of Muliebris, there are some additional mediums. For example, one piece on display will be a large quilt. Another is a mattress with accents of clay on it. And there are multimedia pieces in addition to the traditional ceramics and sculptural forms.
“I think people will take away from this that there can be so many meanings for femininity,” Arbelaez said. “You may see traditional objects, colors and roles that people would expect, but then there will be these creations by people who may not be women or are non-binary who are using femininity in different ways. And there may be women artists in the show who are questioning what it means to be feminine and how that has changed over time.”
"No Bed of Roses" is by Ina Kaur. It explores a relationship that is complex with what can be a place for passion, intimacy, safety and retreat as well as disease, domestic abuse and, ultimately, death.
"La Virgin de Suburbia" is one of three art pieces Sam Shamard will have curated in "Muliebris: Femme, Feminine, Femininity" through May 8 and the Benedicta Arts Center.
"Bowl of Patience" is a work by Fatemah Tajaddod to explore cut how she cut her hair in support of the outcry around a girl in Iran who was killed because of an improper hijab.
"Dangerous" is by Jerrie Fabrigas. In her art, she explores personal and generational trauma, societal expectations, being a woman, and a spirit that cannot be silenced after finding its voice.
"Minima Praelia" is by Maya Beverly, a multidisciplinary artist based in New York. Her sculptures often blur the line between figuration and abstraction. This one examines the intersection between identity, technology and bodily autonomy.