By Alisa Samadani, Staff Writer Originally published in Issue 6, Volume 32 of The University Register on Friday, November 22, 2019

When you think of feminism, the last thing that you expect to see is vaginal imagery. Sure, feminists fight for women’s rights, but what do images of vaginas have to do with the #MeToo movement? Turns out, they make up a large portion of the movement, as well as the University of Minnesota Morris’s newest art exhibition featured in the Morrison Gallery: Festering Liberation. The exhibition opened on Monday, November 11, at 7 p.m., and will be on display until November 27. There are roughly forty pieces on display, with a number of impressive mediums shown. The curators, Olivia Carlson and Miranda Rosequist, have prepared a brief statement on the nature of the exhibition and the handful of themes within “Festering Liberation,” with some of those including vaginal imagery, identity, and political representation. Olivia, who has recently curated an art exhibition at the Stevens County Historical Society, developed the concept for this exhibition last spring, when she and Miranda noticed a plethora of pieces being neglected for their “unique” audience. With the annual Fem panel, which is typically held in the spring semester, being forgotten, Olivia and Miranda conducted a series of calls to artists in the area, assisted by Jess Larson, studio art faculty and gallery member. With the calls accumulating to entries being sent in by recent graduates, the two were thrilled to have their exhibition under way. The two women were driven by works of art that have, in their own words, “been put on the backburner,” and this exhibition was their way of dedicating a space to the movement that is often dismissed: feminism. As the curators’ statement in the gallery reads: “[we] are festering but we are also freeing ourselves; that is a pretty powerful position to be in.” A fair warning to the audience, there is an abundance of graphic and mature themes present, as well as some pertaining to mental health.

As previously mentioned, there are a handful of themes within this exhibition, all of which are pertaining to the liberation of the female identity. At the front doors of the Morrison gallery, viewers are greeted by an interesting piece of jewelry: a red, woven neck piece with an outline of the female reproductive organ, displaying a clever image of the menstrual cycle. Moving further into the gallery, there are four pieces, each displayed on an elevated stand, with two pieces relating to the theme of vaginal imagery -- one being a collection of ceramic cups and the other being a large wooden spoon with a beautifully pyrographed design laid in its center.

The wooden spoon with pyrography, titled “Rabbit Stew,” has an impressive design, utilizing the natural shape of a spoon to serve as a mother’s womb and adding the fallopian tubes and ovaries to complete the image. The slow release of red pigment into the head of the spoon, with heavy pigmentation on the tubes and handle, creates the accurate image of a fetus in development. The rabbit itself looks peaceful, unaware of th harsh world that it must be born into. The title,“Rabbit Stew,” could be a nod to the watery environment where fetuses develop, but there could be another interpretation, one that relates more closely to abortion and removing the fetus before conception -- cooking the young rabbit before it is able to experience life. Regardless, “Rabbit Stew” is a breathtaking work of art.

There are also two pieces relating to political representation, with one being an interactive piece that has a curious texture, and another piece with artificial packages of beef patties, using objective language to connect consumption with the stereotypical role of women in society. All four of these raised pieces are fairly small, fitting on a 24’’ x 24’’ surface. Behind the information desk, there is a video performance installation, “I Used To Weave a Basket of Ambrosia,” as well as another installation, titled “Farewell My Queen,” displayed behind the alcove wall. Both pieces, created by Jess Pope, evoke strong emotions. Along the walls of the main floor, there are a number of different mediums hung, mainly images pertaining to the female body, with screenprints, photographs, and some embroidery as well.

On the upper level of the gallery, there are more varieties of artwork present. There are three small embroidery pieces done on paper photo transfer by co-curator, Olivia Carlson, with the collective title “Spillage.” In a brief interview with Olivia at the opening ceremony, she mentioned her inspiration for the collection came from the truly feminine cloak that embroidery has been put under by society. Olivia wanted to use embroidery in an unconventional manner, so pairing the embroidery with images of waste yard spills seemed the most appropriate.The embroidery is pinned from the photo transfer in such a manner that the putrid waste in the image seems to be dripping its filthy contents towards the gallery floor, with rotten colors such as dirty yellow and burnt citrus orange hanging inches above the bottom of each photo. This use of mixed media makes the overall image seem three-dimensional and all the more impressive.

Along with the “Spillage” trio, there are more pieces hung along the walls of the upper floor: screenprints, a watercolour, lithographs, and ceramics, most of which are fairly small (12’’ x 12’’ maximum).

Another piece that caught my eye on the upper floor was a digital print titled “The Glass Ceiling,” created by Kelsey Aguirre. A shattered ceiling is drawn with white and blue lines at the top of the print, a pink hand thrusting downward, reaching toward another hand which is being held back. The pink hand, presumably female, is shown reaching towards another who is trapped in the dangers of our current society. While the hand breaking through the ceiling is pink, the latter is white, depicting those who have subjected themselves to the black-and-white nature of how women continue to be viewed and treated. The lines of the ceiling pieces are sharp and dramatic in contrast to the soft lines of the hands. The piece nearly moved me to tears.

All in all, I encourage anyone (of any gender expression) to attend the “Festering Liberation” art exhibition. Unlike your typical gallery, this collection seeks to introduce multiple ideas about feminism, from strength in sexuality to vulnerability in the media, and much more. If I could sum up the exhibition in one sentence, it would be: the Morrison art gallery has hosted many bizarre exhibitions in the past, but this one is both educational and entertaining.

Photo on top courtesy of UMM Flickr