Beyond a Room of Our Own
Artist Statement for
SHE: Deconstructing Female Identity exhibition

“Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, 1929, female novelist and essayist, 1882-1941.

“A chair's function is not just to provide a place to sit; it is to provide a medium for self-expression. Chairs are about status, for example. Or signalling something about oneself. That's why the words chair, seat and bench have found themselves used to describe high status professions, from academia to Parliament to the law.”

Evan Davis, male British economist, BBC jounalist, b. 1962.

“The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time, and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.”

Frances Perkins, female economist and social worker, the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Cabinet serving as Secretary of Labor (1933-1945), 1882-1965.

Last year a Tumblr campaign and viral video appeared of young women holding up signs stating “ I don’t need feminism because . . .” as well as a Facebook page called Women Against Feminism. As women and girls were losing gained rights to education and other areas of their lives around the world, and public officials were questioning a woman’s control over her own health issues in this country, it seemed such an ignorant response by these young women. In light of this social media of young women stating their indifference to or outright negative views of feminism, I felt the need to respond through my art.

As with my recent work on other politically charged subjects, I use historical toile pattern backgrounds juxtaposed with contemporary situations in the foreground to address historical women’s issues and rights.

In a domestic setting of a sitting room are two chairs, upholstered with my toile fabric designs, and a small end table surrounded by books by women and about women from the past and present day with other referential ephemera. The room’s wallpaper design is of various chairs and quotes by influential women. Each ornately framed work of printed toile fabric design addresses various issues women are faced with in their lives. As with all my art, my hope is that this room installation will compel the viewer to reflect on and reconsider the relationship between what remains, what is scrapped and what is made new in society’s collective consciousness.

The enormous contribution of women to this country and the world has been largely ignored in various historical narratives. These women’s struggles, often at great personal and professional cost, against the accepted societal feminine norms of their day gave individual women today the right to vote, the right to family planning, the ability to speak our opinions in private and public, the right to protect ourselves from physical and sexual attacks, the right to own property, and the right to pursue any career, professional and, or educational goals we so desire. They corrected for all of us the bias and accepted gender hierarchy stated in The Declaration of the Independence, and made real what was stated in the approved Declaration of Sentiments read by Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY in July 1848, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

I dedicated this installation to all the women, past and present, who have made my life and my daughters’ lives better, and continue the fight for the rights of all girls and women around the world, and to my roll models, my grandmother Dorothy and my mother Mary Lee, who taught me to speak up for my rights and for the human rights of all women.

Laurel Garcia Colvin, Winter 2015