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Blue Door women’s exhibition addresses racism, rape and sexism

Magdalena Sky, left, and Blue Door Gallery curator Kathryn Fink are working to publish the "Welcome to America" series in a book due out in April. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Magdalena Sky's eight-piece series of water color and calligraphy prints titled "Welcome to America.". Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

More than 50 percent of visual artists today are women, yet only 5 percent of the art currently on display in U.S. museums is made by women, according to the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

With the second annual “This is Personal: A Women’s Exhibition,” Blue Door Gallery works to help local women artists get their artwork into galleries. Curated by Kathryn Fink, the exhibition includes powerful personal and political pieces submitted by more than 20 women artists around the region.

“It’s really important for me to do this because it gives me… an outlet for activism and representing the underrepresented groups,” Fink said. “It’s also really interesting to make people aware of the issues going on.”

The exhibition addresses racism, rape, sexism and the reinvention of womanhood.

“For the Blue Door Gallery, I think it’s really important for all of us to do this because when we got started…we wanted a place for artists to feel comfortable talking about uncomfortable things if they wanted to or if they needed to,” Fink said.

‘Welcome to America’

For Magdalena Sky, an Australian-born artist, the exhibition did just that. It provided her a chance to finally call out the harmful comments she heard upon moving to the United States about four months ago.

Her eight-piece series of water color and calligraphy prints titled “Welcome to America” includes many of the racist, sexist and homophobic comments that were said to her during her time in Grand Forks.

She said some of those comments include: “I hate when they speak Asian…Speak American!” and “Flirting is just part of your job.”

Sky said she has always been an activist, who would speak out against such comments, but when she moved to Grand Forks, she feared confrontation.

“I had moved my whole life here,” she said. “And, I couldn’t stand up against it because I would lose that.”

She found herself walking away from the situations and recording the words, which she later wrote in dip pen and accompanied with portraits of everyday people.

These comments weren’t new to Sky. From a city of 5 million people, she said she heard similar comments every day. What shocked her is that the same hateful comments were said in a small community.

“In a bigger city, it gets shut down a lot easier. There is no tolerance for it,” she said. “(In Grand Forks), it’s almost like people would rather be meek and nonconfrontational because they’re afraid of starting a fight.”

With her series “Welcome to America,” Sky said she hopes her art will encourage more people to stand up against harmful behavior.

“I want them to not be afraid if they ever hear someone make a bigoted, ignorant comment like that, to not be afraid to say ‘Hey, we live in a different world now. These kinds of things aren’t acceptable to say,’” she said.

Viewers may think her artwork is confrontational and controversial, but she said, “To me, it’s not as taboo as this town’s made it out to be.”

Fink added, “These images are more than personal; they are beautifully illustrated and carry a theme, which will further open up a platform for necessary conversations about bigotry, sexism, homophobia, gender, violence and personal experiences.”

Sky said she likes that her artwork has created confrontation, caused people to ask questions and stirred a debate.

“I’m really happy that I did this,” she said. “And, I’m always going to continue to make pieces in my life, whether it’s visually, musically or performance wise, that are going to be controversial and confrontational and make people think.”

‘A Woman’s Bible’

Lindsey Brammell, graphic design professor and owner of Ladybird Graphics, combined graphic design with feminist art to create “A Woman’s Bible” and get people thinking about womanhood.

“I want to talk about more of a timeline starting with a young girl’s identity and how … her identity becomes lost or destroyed when she’s born into a society because society is telling her how to basically live or think,” Brammell said. “I wanted to reinvent this womanhood of who she is and figure out what society is trying to change.”

Brammell used the letters, photographs and newspaper clippings her grandmother had collected from different family members to create a book that illustrated how the views and roles of women in her family had changed, and in some cases, stayed the same, from generation to generation.

“I didn’t edit how they were written, but I wanted to highlight some of the words that revealed some of this antiquated cultural ideology or the primitive roles that women assumed at the time,” she said.

The letters address a woman’s role in the house and the struggles of not changing one’s last name after marriage.

“On the side, I kind of go through what those writings are and what they kind of mean to women in society today and how basically our ancestors or family do shape our understanding of ourselves,” she said.

The book calls attention to traditional elements, and Brammell said, “Just by bringing awareness to it, (readers) might end up understanding a little bit more about women and where they came from… maybe they end up changing and realize that there’s still some issues today with how women are treated.”

Brammell said women aren’t in art history books and galleries as often as men, and she appreciates the women’s exhibition at Blue Door because it allows the area’s female artists to show their work.

“People are very interested in seeing what women create, and I think they realize it’s really not very different than males… a lot of it is gender neutral,” she said. “(The exhibition) is really important for Grand Forks because we don’t have as much knowledge about women’s issues in the state of North Dakota, and this is a great step in introducing women’s issues.”

Not all of the pieces are apparently personal and political like Sky and Brammell’s, though. The exhibition also includes paintings of trees, flowers and abstract artwork.

But, Fink said: “Even though it might not look personal, it is. The act of making something is personal. When you were making it, you were expressing something, so it is a personal piece, it is a political piece.”

If you go:

  • What: “This is Personal: A Women’s Exhibition” with artwork by women around the region.
  • When: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays through April 6.
  • Where: Blue Door Gallery, 2 North Third Street, Grand Forks.
  • Cost: Free.
  • Info: bluedoorgf.com; Facebook.com/bluedoorgf.

‘Welcome to America’ book

Magdalena Sky and Kathryn Fink are working to publish the “Welcome to America” series in a book, which will include four additional prints. Fink said they are hoping to publish the book by April, but they are taking pre-orders now at Blue Door Gallery and by email at esc.artist.collective@gmail.com.

Interested in volunteering?

Blue Door Gallery is looking for volunteers to help run the gallery. Contact Kathryn Fink at esc.artist.collective@gmail.com.

Jasmine Maki
Jasmine Maki is a features reporter for Accent. Her main beats are arts and entertainment and life and style. She also occasionally covers health, family and TV.
(701) 780-1122
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