“Honoring” Women with Art

So this mural was unveiled last November. It’s intent was to honor women. Every time I walk by it I get a little perturbed.

First, the mural is buried on a seldom-used alley behind the Cultural Center. Garland Court is used as a loading dock for events at the Cultural Center. As if women’s accomplishments have not been hidden enough! As if the “dark alley” does not carry a powerfully sinister message to every woman on the world.

Even the artist thought it wasn’t the best location choice. When talking to Phil Ponce, he has this to say “You can’t really get a good vantage point where you can see the whole thing from the ground.” If that doesn’t sum up the whole of female experience in the world for generations, nothing does.

Second, the muralist, Kerry James Marshall, is a man. Now, he is an accomplished artist and comes to the table with stellar credentials. My issue? There are many muralists in Chicago who identify as female. Did any one of the people who supported this even talk to one female artist? Would this not have been a serious opportunity to support women and one woman in particular? Imagine! a woman’s vision of the history of women!

I am not even going to begin to unpack the symbolic nuances of rendering women in wood.

The title-Rush More- is ridiculous.  Yes! let’s incorporate some sort of reference to four old white guys! That will make it relevant and relatable! Except, two of these men were slaveholders and one was a known racist. Even the artist, Gutzon Borglum-who was mostly responsible for Mount Rushmore had serious racist leanings, too. Lincoln is the only white guy on Mount Rushmore who gave a modicum of consideration to the lives of African-Americans.

What is “Rush More” intended to be? Advice for all of us? Can you just hear it? “Geez, ladies if you just did things even faster you’d maybe finally get equal pay for equal work!”

Some say in a city where less than 1% of the public art features women that this mural is a good addition to the count.

Buried down a dark alley, made by a man, rendering women as wood, does not add up to even decent female representation. In fact, think something that represents women so poorly does just the opposite.

We can do better and we must do better here in Chicago.

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