"Woman As ___" exhibit showcases the beauty and strength of women (through art)

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Tacocat Cooperative’s December exhibition, “Woman As___,” brings together two groups to explore what it means to be a woman.

The exhibition is presented by — and benefits — the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, with works created by the Creative Arts of Women’s member artists. Starting with the open-ended titular theme, CAW’s member artists were charged with capturing the impact women have on both a macro (society as a whole) and micro (personal and familial relationships) level.

“Our mission is to transform the lives of women and girls by mobilizing the collective power and passion of all women working together,” said Sara Mitchell, communication and engagement manager for the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. “Our work is for women, by women, and with the commitment of the entire community, which is why partnerships like this one with CAW are so impactful. They broaden our reach and amplify more voices for gender equality. The exhibit itself provides an outlet for the artists to illustrate and influence how womanhood is defined and seen in our society. And, for those who come to the exhibit and experience the pieces, it’s an opportunity to engage and explore gender.”

The original concept was to coincide with the Women’s Fund 2014 campaign of “women as change agents,” but after some discussion among members of the female artist collective a more boundless theme was reached.

“I’ve been doing a little survey when I run into women. I’ll say, if someone came up to you and said, ‘women as …,’ how would you fill in the blank,” said Catherine Bell Smith, a Tacocat resident artist and CAW member who organized the exhibit and will have an installation in it. “Most of them say they have no idea because there are too many things, which was encouraging because I knew the women in this group would not be limited by any means.”

“Woman As___” is a group exhibit — featuring more than 100 pieces from 39 CAW artists — that’s defined by limitlessness. The exhibit, which holds its opening reception from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, has a variety of painting, photography, sculpture, installations and mixed-media work.

A main component is the 10-inch-tile mosaic that will take up an entire wall in the gallery space. The 50-piece tableau is both individually inspired and collectively cohesive. All artists presenting in “Woman As___” were asked to use the title in naming their tile (or tiles, as some created multiple ones), whereas the larger pieces could be named anything.

“Every exhibitor is creating at least one 10-inch tile at a set price. I’m calling it a mosaic, but it’s also like a quilt — putting squares together and creating a larger piece from those,” Bell Smith said. “There will be a unifying factor in this, not just the size but other elements that will make a design out of that display.”

Examining the pieces in “Woman As___” provides ample proof of the diversity within the exhibit and the women presenting, as well as the important — and impactful — role women have in everyone’s lives. Bell Smith puts it best by describing the exhibit as “a powerhouse show.”

Some three-dimensional pieces will have visitors immediately gravitating in their direction. Gretchen Stevens Cochran’s three sculptures (“Scrub,” “Bristle” and “Whisk”) carry undertones of how society (stereotypically) associates cleaning with women, but the pieces themselves think deeper, suggesting women are the foundation of family and home, not merely maids.

Guinivere Gallaway presents something that’s part retrospective and part personal in her book piece “Our Family Human.” The book contains a number of photos and artifacts of women from bygone eras transferred to fabric pages. The keyhole on the cover suggests trust must be present to enter the piece — much like trust must be there to foster strong bonds. That no key is required to open the book shows the artist is open to building a relationship with the viewer.

The complementary sculptures “Sparkle” and Darkle,” which double as wearable body puppets, by Pilgrim Heidi Kambitsch represent some of the most personal work in the exhibit. Kambitsch lost a close friend in August to breast cancer and wanted to pay homage to her, while dealing with the immense loss she experienced. “Sparkle” is all about the beautiful fantasy Kambitsch’s friend was to her — hence the unicorn and twinkling, blissful aesthetic despite the somber inspiration — while “Darkle,” a mainly black creature, deals with the evocative nature of grief.

On the two-dimensional side, “Woman As___” has no shortage of standouts either. “Winged Fantasy” by new CAW member Lisette Lichtenstein is visually captivating. The oil paints on an aluminum sheet give it a stunning allure, while the cherub raising its arms outwardly will have an immediate impact on the viewer.

Two photography prints, “Benevolent Enough” and “This is How You Come Down,” by Amy Leibrand convey the simple, concentrated beauty of the female visage, while countering it by obscuring, transforming and/or emphasizing particular facial features.

“Woman As___” demonstrates the immeasurable ways women are not only creative forces, but also forces to be reckoned with by encapsulating the principles of the CAW group — respect, open-mindedness and diversity — while demonstrating the individual character of each artist.

Photos by Meghan Ralston

Tacocat Cooperative

Through Jan. 18

937 Burrell Ave., Grandview