The Un-Heroic Act: Representations of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the U.S.

The Un-Heroic Act: Representations of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the U.S.

Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Suzanne Lacy, Three Weeks in May, 1977. Paper, ink. This section 8 x 12 ft. © 1977 Suzanne Lacy. Courtesy of the artist.

October 12, 2018
The Un-Heroic Act: Representations of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the U.S.
September 4–November 3, 2018
Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
860 Eleventh Avenue
New York, New York 10019
United States
Hours: Monday–Friday 10am–6pm,
Saturday 12–6pm
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Wednesday, October 24, 6–8pm
Artists talk & gallery tour: “The Personal Sphere”

A gallery tour with curator Monika Fabijanska followed by a discussion with artists Roya Amigh, Angela Fraleigh, and Lynn Hershman Leeson on what means artists employ to tell personal stories.

Curated by Monika Fabijanska

“The exhibition […] recaptures the experience of rape from art historical romanticizing, presenting work by twenty female artists from the past forty years on its decidedly “un-heroic” nature.” —Jessica Holmes, Brooklyn Rail

The Un-Heroic Act is a concentrated survey of works by a diverse roster of artists representing three generations, including Jenny Holzer, Suzanne Lacy, Ana Mendieta, Yoko Ono, and Kara Walker, which aims to demonstrate that rape constitutes one of central themes in women’s art and analyzes its rich iconography. The exhibition explores ways of depicting and narrating the subject in all visual art forms: from drawing to new media and social practice. It is accompanied by a catalog.

The exhibition aims to fill a gap in the history of art, where the subject of rape has been represented by countless historical depictions by male artists. They were called “heroic” by Susan Brownmiller in her groundbreaking book, Against Our Will. Men, Women and Rape (1975). What makes works by women radically different is the focus not on the action or drama, but on the lasting psychological devastation of the victim: her suffering, shame, silence, and loneliness. Many of the works emphasize regaining control over the victim’s sexuality and psyche and reclaiming the cultural narrative. Often strikingly beautiful, these works are rarely shown or their true meaning is obscured.

The Un-Heroic Act explores issues that inspired artists to treat the subject of rape: domestic violence, child abuse, college rape culture, rape in the military, rape as a war crime, slavery, rape epidemic on Indian reservations, women trafficking, rape in public and political discourse, the role of media, criminal trials, and visual and literary tradition, especially art history and fairy tales. The exhibition examines remarkably varied visual languages artists employed—from figuration to abstraction to text—depending on their purpose, from shocking the audience, evoking empathy, to healing.

Artists: Yoko Ono, Ana Mendieta, Senga Nengudi, Suzanne Lacy, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Carolee Thea, Guerrilla Girls, Jenny Holzer, Kathleen Gilje, Angela Fraleigh, Natalie Frank, Jennifer Karady, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Andrea Bowers, Ada Trillo, Kara Walker, Roya Amigh, Naima Ramos-Chapman, Bang Geul Han, and Guerrilla Girls BroadBand.

The Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY is a 4,000 sq. ft. art facility opened in 2013 on the ground floor of JJC’s building near Lincoln Center. The gallery provides an unrestricted forum for artists and curators to explore issues that challenge our precepts of social justice and human rights and the engaged role that the arts play in this process.

The exhibition is curated by Monika Fabijanska and organized by the Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery. Generous funding for the exhibition is provided by the Affirmation Arts Fund and Sarah Peter. Public Programming Fees are made possible by the Elizabeth A. Sackler Museum Educational Trust. The catalog is made possible, in part, by Barbara Lee Family Foundation. Special thanks to Masterpiece International for making shipping of several works possible. John Jay College Cultural and Visual Arts productions are made possible in part with funds allocated by NYC Council Member Helen Rosenthal and the New York City Council. The Un-Heroic Act is a sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Further information: 
Hrag Vartanian interview with curator Monika Fabijanska on the Hyperallergic podcast.
Recording of the symposium ”Iconography of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the U.S.

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Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
October 12, 2018

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