The Female Lens

Photo by Lori Andrews.

Story by Adriana Cueva

Art and beauty are often said to be a matter of perspective, a chance to view particular scenes or objects through the eyes of the artist. Galleries such as the Christine Klassen Gallery allow audiences to explore unique pieces in a comfortable and approachable way.

As part of Calgary’s Exposure Photography Festival, CKG hosted the Female Lens exhibit, through which they showcased the exploration of a particular perspective: the complex, varied and multifaceted one of femme and female-identifying photographers and artists. The photographers featured represent a wide scope of female experience, presenting emerging and well-established artists alike.

There are local artists alongside artists with diverse backgrounds from around the globe and careers extending decades. The Female Lens exhibit was composed of varied pieces all beautifully curated by CKG and artist Heather Seitz to play upon each other in the exhibit. Rocio Graham’s intricate close up scenery shots evoke feelings of the magic to be found in the natural world; these scenes were juxtaposed with Haley Eyre’s beautiful and playful self-portraits full of social and gender commentary wrapped in a glamourous vintage feel. The nostalgic scenery in Heather Saitz’s photos are a perfect homage to the fusion of modern and vintage that is current in so many forms of art – be it beauty, fashion, film or other artistic avenues. This theme of old made new echoed throughout various parts of the exhibit, done beautifully and with so much meaning in Vivek Shraya’s re-capturing of old family photos with herself and modern additions to the scenes. These are only a handful of the talented artists featured.

Overall the exhibit was fresh, new and powerful, raw and also perfectly polished. And the question arises of why do these perspectives feel so new compared to the media that we so often consume at mass volumes?

One difference between this show and the mass media market is that the exhibit is one where the artists had a special community of support in putting forward their work. Christine Klassen Gallery being a female owned gallery, the exhibit is an example of the great success that can be earned from women supporting women.

By Heather Saitz.

Co-Curator Heather Saitz speaks of how it was empowering to be able to approach Klassen about granting her the space and her expertise to host such an exhibit. This gave Saitz and the other artists the opportunity to bypass a male’s perspective and judgement of the project’s idea or pieces and granted them the ability to bypass the need for a male’s approval before being able to speak through their work.

The idea behind this was not to say that their work wasn’t worthy of male approval but rather that male influence was unnecessary and irrelevant to the message the women desired to share, as this project was about the female view and male perspectives would serve as counterproductive. This function allows men and women to see through the female perspective by means of this showcase, empowering females but also allowing males to experience the artists’ unique perspective through art. This caused for a beautifully safe and accepting space, as well as one full of understanding about the particular struggle that female artists face in their artistic and professional journey.

At the artist panel held in the space on Feb. 23, roughly midway through the exhibit’s run, CKG opened the floor to discussion about the artistic processes the women experienced. There was talk about their inspiration, their risk taking, their advice, as well as a cohort of shared experiences surrounding gender-focused issues such as the sexualization of their pieces, their experience of sexism in the industry and the weight of balancing their other unique and individual responsibilities as women with their artistic work. The discussion went through both serious and humorous accounts from the artists.

The panel gave an insight into creative work that is often time consuming and expensive, personally and financially taxing, but, thankfully for the audience that got to feast their eyes on their beautiful and emotionally and creatively provocative work, also extremely satisfying. None of the artists expressed any level of regret in their brave artistic undertakings. Each woman has found their own way to not only find balance and support within the artistic community but to truly thrive on it and create striking art in the process.

This exhibit is not the first all-female artist exhibit that the CKG has hosted but it is the first they have marketed so boldly, this being Seitz’s purpose: to unapologetically present these pieces as female created art.

At the panel, CKG also spoke to their desire to also support female artists as just what they are: gifted and capable creators. And so have in the past strayed away from bluntly bringing attention to their gender, wanting their pieces to be appreciated as art and decrease any sense of otherness towards the works. However, as many of the artists in the panel agree, there is also an empowerment that is built through the women supporting women community that was harnessed in the boldly presented collection.

Yes, the art is made by women, and yes, it is definitely stunning. And both ‘female artists as artists’ and ‘female art as different’, as a perspective with its own complexities and assets, are avenues that serve as powerful tools for femme and female creators and their supporting audiences to have at their disposal in promoting their work.