The Power of Portrayal: Envisioning Women's Representation

“Envisioning Women” looks at thirteen objects that conceptualize the broad topic of women’s experience, engagement, and representation in politics, spanning from the early sixteenth century to the present-day.

In this exhibition, historical representations of women in art and literature enable us to explore how women creators confronted continuous misrepresentation. Accounting for time and place, the materials on display were selected for their impact on historical misunderstandings of women.

The advent of photography, represented by our daguerreotypes, shifted both the understanding and reception of women as public and domestic figures. Many of our images (like those by the artists Elizabeth Catlett and Alison Saar) render the voices and experiences of marginalized women of color throughout time. Three works from the twenty-first century reclaim notions of the past, by centering historically underrepresented women and reimagining them in positions of power and independence. At the end of  the exhibit, the viewer encounters Amy Sherald's official portrait of Michelle Obama, that extends our conversation on women’s voices and images into the present day. With these final pieces, we can visualize how the conversation on women's representation is drastically changing, and for the better.

The exhibition, created by a team of six Cornell University students, combines literary and visual objects from Cornell University’s collections to investigate the ongoing efforts of women to reconceptualize womanhood.

This exhibition was created by the students of ARTH 4110/6010 taught in the fall of 2020 by Professor Shirley Samuels and Nancy Green, the Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of European and American Art, Prints and Drawings, at the Johnson Museum in conjunction with a National Endowment for the Arts Artworks grant. The students are: Victoria Baugh, Victoria Corwin, Skye Levy, Paloma Vianey Martinez, Isabelle McDonald, and Catherine Rucker.

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