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Gallery Round-Up: Celebrate Women’s History Month with these Female-Forward Exhibitions

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BmoreArt’s Picks: March 26 – April 1

The month of March marks the dawning of spring, the promise of longer, sunnier days and blooming flowers. With the vernal equinox around the corner, it offers reprieve from the unrelenting winter months and welcomes us with open arms to, what I consider, the real beginning of the year.

March also happens to be Women’s History Month. The exhibitions I saw this month, Rebecca Marimutu’s Portraits (Contact), Rebecca Strzelec’s 365 Grams, and Rosa Leff and Kelly Walker’s A Fine Pairing—at Goucher College, Baltimore Jewelry Center, and Creative Alliance, respectively—made me reflect on my relationship to myself, womanhood, and the women who shaped me into who I am today.

 

Rebecca Marimutu, “Portrait(s) Contact #87,” image courtesy of the artist
Rebecca Marimutu, “Portrait(s) Contact #24,” image courtesy of the artist

I first saw Rebecca Marimutu’s work at Gallery CA in 2022, where her pieces “Portrait(s) Contact #90” and “Portrait(s) Contact #50” were featured as part of a multi-artist exhibition. Seeing them again more than a year later in a solo show, Marimutu’s work resonates with me even more.

Portraits (Contact), currently on view at Goucher College’s Rosenberg Gallery, is an exhibition of experimental self-portrait photographs that interrogate its own medium, questions one’s relationship to the self, and how we contextualize the representation of Black women. Marimutu utilizes collage techniques to reinterpret or obscure her portrait, each photograph depicting a different facet in her journey of self discovery.

Portrait(s) Contact #87” is a collage of black and white photo cutouts of the artist’s facial features on a brick background. Her features are enlarged and tilted, inciting an uncanny feeling when we almost don’t recognize Marimutu as the subject. The piece is reminiscent of those moments when we stare so long at a picture of ourselves that our own faces become unrecognizable, pointing out how an eyebrow sits higher than the other or how our smile is crooked until all of our features seem distorted and foreign.

In “Portrait(s) Contact #24”, Marimutu conceals her portrait by coloring on top of it. The background is painted green while a contrasting orange hides her image. The hastened strokes of color hide her expression, making her unreadable to us, but also mysterious and compelling, suggesting myriad possibilities for identity and resolution.

 

Rebecca Marimutu, “Portrait(s) Contact #37,” image courtesy of the artist
Rebecca Marimutu, “Portrait(s) Contact #103,” image courtesy of the artist
Marimutu utilizes collage techniques to reinterpret or obscure her portrait, each photograph depicting a different facet in her journey of self discovery.

Each portrait is a unique iteration of Marimutu’s exploration of her identity and its complexities as a Black woman. In her own words, “as the dissemination of the image of Black womanhood is consumed more than ever, I question how I can have authorship over my own image.”

By boldly obscuring her portraits, Marimutu renders herself the only judge and jury of her own image. She communicates that this is her journey, it is intimate and personal and messy, as self discovery always is. We are allowed to peek in, but ultimately she takes control of her autonomy and allows us to see the final result of what that can look like.

 

Rebecca Strzelec, "365 Grams," installation view by Jill Fannon

Rebecca Strzelec’s 365 Grams presents a similar process of self-discovery, this time through the lens of matrilineal womanhood and heirlooms. Strzelec’s jewelry exhibition, on view at the Baltimore Jewelry Center, is born out of a heartstrings-tugging story. Her grandmother gifted her a custom jewelry collection, which she kept safely for years. After her grandmother’s passing, Strzelec wore one piece of the collection every day for a year in her honor. The year-long ritual became a form of documentation and reclamation, allowing her to become more actively connected with her memories.

 

Rebecca Strzelec, "365 Grams," installation view by Jill Fannon
Rebecca Strzelec, "365 Grams," installation view by Jill Fannon
“Souvenir” consists of 40 necklaces that hold a total of 365 pendants containing selfie pictures that document Strzelec wearing her grandmother’s jewelry.

The jewelry collection has now been transformed into a chronology of new memories. “Souvenir” consists of 40 necklaces that hold a total of 365 pendants containing selfie pictures that document Strzelec wearing her grandmother’s jewelry.

The connection we feel with the female figures in our livesgrandmothers, mothers, sistersis a special bond that shapes women’s identity and worldview at an early age. All women hold a memory of rifling through their mother’s makeup bag or opening their grandmother’s jewelry chest. In “Souvenir,” Strzelec reclaims that experience by bringing into her adulthood and reshaping it into a moment of remembrance.

 

Kelly Walker, "Desole D'avoir Ete Un Connard," image courtesy of Creative Alliance
Rosa Leff, "In Sickness and In Health," image courtesy of Creative Alliance

A Fine Pairing, Rosa Leff and Kelly Walker’s duo exhibition at Creative Alliance’s Amalie Rothschild gallery, is a colorful ode to city life in which Walker’s chaotic canvases juxtapose Leff’s meticulous paper pieces. The artists captivate fleeting feelings and scenes that invite you to pause and reminisce, not just in the gallery space but also in your daily walks around your neighborhood. 

Kelly Walker’s artwork is full of emotion. She crafts layered explosions of color pulling inspiration from graffiti and intuitive painting. “Urban Bayou” exemplifies all of Walker’s artistic techniques. An army green background formed by a mix of stipples and paint drips serves as the base for a myriad of graffiti and scribbled designs. The background resembles the murky water Walker alludes to in the piece’s title, while the designs on the foreground bring the piece into an urban setting, making it more akin to a city lake.

My favorite of her pieces is the vibrant “Desole D’avoir Ete Un Connard”, which translates into ‘sorry for being an asshole’. The hot pink and gold spray paint piece is undeniably hyperfemme to me, reminding me of sparkly eyeshadow worn on a night out with my friends, the title being something that could be said after a dumb argument on one such  outing. 

 

Rosa Leff, "Light at the End of the Work Week," image courtesy of Creative Alliance
The artists captivate fleeting feelings and scenes that invite you to pause and reminisce, not just in the gallery space but also in your daily walks around your neighborhood.

Rosa Leff’s pieces are full of tiny details that made me go back, time and time again, during my visit to the gallery. The artwork is made of one single piece of paper that has been carefully cut to create cityscapes. “View From The Top” depicts a house from street view distance with all of the characteristics of it belonging to a small neighborhood. Details such as the large backyard trees, bicycles resting on the fence, light post, and most importantly, the Puerto Rican flag attached to the doorframe, remind me of the neighborhoods I grew up in.

The piece is nostalgic and familiar, and I can almost hear neighbors talking, kids playing, and dogs barking somewhere nearby. “Light At the End of The Work Week” caught my attention as a play on perspective. The piece reads as a sci-fiesque tunnel with people walking in the distance, yet it can also be read as a worm’s eye view of the city, which turns the many lights in Leff’s tunnel into windows and the surroundings into her people’s workplaces. 

 

Kelly Walker, "The Violet Fems," image courtesy of Creative Alliance
Rebecca Strzelec, "365 Grams," photo by Jill Fannon

Perfect for March, or any month really, these three exhibitions hold womanhood at their core. Portraits (Contact) depicts a personal evolution, an answer to a question only Marimutu herself is able to answer. 365 Grams presents commitment to a promise Strzelec made to herself in honor of a woman she has loved dearly. A Fine Pairing holds two sides of the same coin, depicting familiar sights and inciting nostalgic memories attached to the places in which we experience life altering moments.

As women, we are constantly bombarded by outside pressures ranging from people’s criticism to large institutional forces. It can be difficult to look inward, to figure out who we are and want to become without taking into consideration those outside voices and doubting ourselves. The ones who continuously help me come back to myself when I’m in doubt are always the women in my life, my mom, my best friend, and my grandmothers.

This Women’s History Month, these artists have urged me to document my life and journey more, to reach out to the people I love, and to continue to evolve unapologetically. 

 

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