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New exhibits at Indianapolis Art Center put women and nonbinary artists at the forefront

"What We Carry" and "Women's Work" give women and nonbinary artists the stage to share their voices on issues surrounding the female body.
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Posted at 7:39 AM, Jul 14, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — The work of women and nonbinary artists from across the country is being showcased in the latest installations at the Indianapolis Art Center.

The two new art exhibits — "Women's Work" and "What We Carry" — are centered around gender and the problems women face every day. Although closely related, the two installations have a stark difference in the issues they're showcasing.

Women's Work is an installation compiled of art pieces from nearly 60 artists who all use varying mediums to showcase the issues women and femme-presenting people face day to day: the taboo surrounding menstruation, having both feminine and masculine energy, and all-in-all what it means to be a modern-day woman.

What We Carry, by internationally recognized artist Alex Younger, showcases sexual violence and how America — both culturally and within the justice system — handles harassment and rape.

All in all, each of the installations asks the viewer to examine how often they're affording men the voice of default with issues surrounding women.

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Part of Alex Younger's solo exhibit, "What We Carry."

"My goal in any exhibit is to get people to come into it without any preconceived notions; to come into it willing to learn from the perspective of someone else, to not only see visually compelling art but to come away kind of thinking about how that relates to their life and, hopefully, how (they can) take those ideas with them and grow them even further," Jo Banister, the Indianapolis Art Center's exhibitions and gallery manager, said.

As visitors enter the Indy Art Center, located in Broad Ripple, they're first met with nude paintings, contemporary drawings, video presentations, photographs, and several other forms of art. Often asking the viewer to do one thing: think about the numerous, often-taboo topics centered around women and the female body.

The Art Center is currently holding a summer camp for children, and as they walk the halls, from room to room, the images are on display. Banister said she's already received a few emails with concerns about the imagery on the walls, and a sign before entering the room to Younger's exhibit reads that the Art Center does "not censor artistic expression."

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A piece by Bux Dhyne that is part of the "Women's Work" exhibit at the Indianapolis Art Center.

They're both exhibits that the Indy Art Center didn't want to relegate to any specific "month" or occasion because of a marginalized community the artists may be part of, but instead wanted to give a platform based on the quality of the artists work.

"I went to Herron for art history, and have been really focused on queer art, on AIDS activists art, on art from marginalized people; groups that you never usually see. Unless it's, you know, it's Black History Month ... or, you know, it's Sexual Assault Awareness Month," Banister explained. "I felt like it was really important to kind of bring in artists that don't have those opportunities, or who have those opportunities, but in very specific parameters — not to legitimize them, because they are valid — but to focus on them, to uplift them, to give them more of an opportunity and more of a voice then, hopefully, they would usually get."

This philosophy on curating exhibits with a continued stream of new artists presenting a form and concept viewers more than likely haven't seen before is the base for most, if not all, of the exhibits at the Indy Art Center, Banister said.

She and her team often hold open calls to offer new artists a place to submit their work, which is not a clear path for post-college artists seeking to work in the art industry, according to Banister.

The exhibit curator says getting into a studio almost anywhere is "remarkably difficult."

"Unfortunately, the art world is still very much like, 'Do you know someone?' 'Have you made connections?' I mean, when I was in school ... there wasn't any sort of like, 'here's how you put a proposal together,' and 'here's who you should be talking to,' and like, 'here's what your portfolio should look like.' So there's not a lot of guidance even to figure out how to start," Banister explained.

According to the Indianapolis Art Center, women have been largely excluded from art schools, galleries and museums.

While women make up 70% of artists with a bachelor of fine arts degrees, and at least 65% of those with masters of fine arts degrees, only 46% of women became working artists. In a recent survey reported in the Smithsonian Magazine, it was found that 85 to 87% of the collections in 18 prominent U.S. museums were comprised of white male artists.

The need for more opportunities in the art industry for women and non-binary individuals is perhaps most telling by the high volume of submissions Banister received for the Women's Work installation. She received 800 submissions and accepted 59.

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Part of Alex Younger's solo exhibit, "What We Carry."

"There's also this kind of dismissal of certain artistic medium, sewing, knitting, embroidery, things like that, that those are just crafts, like 'women do those; those are crafty;' 'those aren't fine art,'" Banister said of the prompts the showcases bring up.

Banister said she thinks of the Women's Work exhibit as a show that is "uplifting misogyny-affected people."

"If they are femme-presenting, if they were assigned female at birth, they still absolutely have to deal with those issues, not only of being treated with misogyny, but then having to square with like, 'well, I'm being treated as a woman, but I'm not a woman' and like, 'how do I grapple with that kind of conflict?'"

And there is the work of sexual assault activism that Banister says is very specific to women and nonbinary artists, even though, she adds, men can be victims of assault as well.

Younger's solo exhibit, What We Carry, focuses specifically on sexual assault and the often fraught justice system.

Through words, poetry, varying materials, and selective placement, Younger's work shows how women, and more explicitly, she herself, have learned to cope with the feeling of surviving sexual violence.

Younger became a sexual assault activist in 2015 after the college adjudication of her case resulted in a punishment of 10 days of probation for her rapist.

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Jo Banister, the Indianapolis Art Center exhibitions and gallery manager, poses in front of a few of the pieces featured in the "Women's Work" exhibit in July 2021.

"The road to progress is being paved, just so slowly," Banister said. "So many of the leadership, you know, the makeup of these institutions, is still old, rich white men. So, the progress is difficult because so often the progress is for aesthetics."

Visitors can check out the artwork in the "What We Carry" and "Women's Work" exhibits for free at the Indianapolis Art Center through August 9.

Indianapolis Art Center
820 E. 67th St.
Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday, Noon-6 p.m.