Sick of male-dominated art? The Female Lens, an all-female exhibition, has you covered
By Karina Zapata, Arts Editor
Expectations. Inspiration. The heart-wrenching desire to be seen.
These are all themes in Vivek Shraya’s photography and writing project, “Trisha.” In each photo set, Shraya imitates old, colourful photos of her mother and captures a kind of liveliness that one only has in their youth. Every essence of the photo comparisons are strikingly similar, from the traditional Indian clothing worn to the vertical lines in the wooden walls.
She starts off the photo essay that accompanies the photos with, “My story has always been bound to your prayer to have two boys. […] So you prayed to a god you can’t remember for two sons and you got me. I was your first and I was soft. Did this ever disappoint you?”
Shraya, 37, is a trans woman of colour who confronts her experiences — both painful and elating — through not only visual art, but also music, literature and film. Her work has won her countless and diverse awards, including CBC Arts’ Great Canadian Filmmaker of the Future and The Globe and Mail’s Canada’s Best Dressed.
After a series of 18 stunning photos, she ends the essay with, “You used to say that if you had a girl, you would have named her Trisha.”
This project is only one of the many female-focused photography projects being displayed at the Christine Klassen Gallery for their newest exhibition, The Female Lens, which opened Friday, Feb. 8.
The Female Lens features nine local, female photo-based artists. Alongside Shraya are Diana Thorneycroft, Dona Schwartz, Elyse Bouvier, Heather Saitz, Julya Hajnoczky, Rocio Graham, Lori Andrews and Haley Eyre.
When you put the artists’ photos side by side, there is no obvious shared theme. It’s clear that the curators, Christine Klassen and Heather Saitz, did not ask the artists to create work specifically for the exhibition.
Instead, once you take a step back, you’re able to see that The Female Lens gives each of the artists the opportunity to photograph one core subject: womanhood.
Additionally, the Christine Klassen gallery is run completely by women. The combination of all-female artists and staff is one that is sorely lacking in the art industry.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NWMA) released a report that demonstrates the huge gender disparity in art galleries. It states, “Only 13.7 per cent of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women,” despite art museum staff being mostly made up of women.
Haley Eyre, the youngest artist featured on The Female Lens, says that the art industry and the fashion industry are both similar in that way.
In her work, Eyre likes to touch on themes such as inner conflicts, beauty and social issues, such as feminism. She often uses comedy to get people’s attention, even when tackling large topics. Truthfully, this tactic works.
“There’s a lot of beauty standards and they’re pretty homogenous and I think that talking about that and bringing attention to that is very important, as well as feminism and other social issues,” says Eyre, photography student at Alberta University of the Arts, formerly known as Alberta College of Art and Design.
Lori Andrews is another photographer featured on The Female Lens. She was 13 years old when she fell in love with taking photos — at the time, on film.
She finds empowerment through photography, mainly because she is, as she says, very sure of herself as a person. Lots of her work involves self-portraits, including the work displayed at the Christine Klassen Gallery.
Her featured exhibition screams empowerment. Andrews poses in various locations across Alberta wearing a Superwoman costume — a feeling she is familiar with and wants all other women to feel as well.
“I am a feminist,” says Andrews. “I am a person who believes in social responsibility and inclusiveness and I want to portray that. I’m also a woman who believes that we have full ownership over our bodies.”
Andrews says she’s lucky to have her work displayed alongside other female photo-based artists, both established and upcoming.
Shraya, Eyre and Andrews’ honest and authentic work hangs on the white walls of the Christine Klassen Gallery alongside other dreamy, energetic pieces by the other artists.
The gallery will be hosting an artist panel on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. where you will be able to hear from the artists about “working in the industry as a female photographer, our creative processes and the exhibition in general,” according to co-curator and artist, Saitz.
But if February is a busy month for you, don’t worry — the exhibition will be up until March 9.