Women take center stage in 'Feminine Sublime'

Andy Downing
"Break the Pack" by Sarah Elizabeth Burger

Tatiana Melnikova emigrated to the United States five years ago from Russia, a country she described as more conservative, particularly in terms of how the role of women is viewed.

“It’s a lot different there. A woman is first considered a wife or mother, and that is the primary function,” Melnikova said during an early March interview at 400 West Rich, where the exhibit she curated, “Feminine Sublime,” had been slated to premiere just before the coronavirus-driven shutdowns hit Columbus. The show is now scheduled to take place from 1 to 4 p.m. during the 400 Market on Sunday, May 31, though admittance will be limited to 10 visitors at a time to maintain required social distancing. “After coming [to the U.S.], I started understanding that’s not how it needs to be, and so my idea of femininity changed quite a lot.”

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In “Feminine Sublime,” Melnikova invited artists to contribute pieces that reflected this diverse, shifting view of femininity. The artist also included some of her own soft, impressionist pieces, a style far removed from the more academic approach she adopted while enrolled in Russian art school. “I started with paintings that were far more [academic] … and now I try to go somewhere more expressive,” said Melnikova, who works largely in colored pencil and watercolor. “In Russia, it’s a long education. They take 15 years to shape you as an artist, and it’s very academic. They do not let you go where you want to go; they direct you where you should go.”

Eventually, owing to a combination of a growing disinterest with this rigid approach and pressure from her parents, who wanted her to be an engineer (“My family said [art is] … not an education”), Melnikova’s interest in painting waned, though it has come roaring back in recent years, allowing the artist to explore aspects of her own identity as well as societal issues at large.

The pieces making up “Feminine Sublime” reflect this wide range, with some artists confronting deeply personal issues related to everything from body image to sexuality and others creating works that delve into deeply ingrained societal issues — a fitting approach considering that the show developed in part from Melnikova’s realization that 2020 marked 100 years since women received the right to vote.

From the onset, Melnikova said she wanted to include as many artists as possible, eventually selecting roughly 40 artists from the more than 80 that submitted. “It should include as many artists as possible, because it’s about how that image of women is not limited to one or two or three. It’s many,” she said.

Melnikova said that putting together the exhibit hadn’t shifted her views on femininity, but rather affirmed its amorphous nature.

“It’s incredible all the ideas these artists have about what femininity is for them,” she said. “And the more I’m thinking about it, the more I’m realizing [femininity] should not be defined. Objects are defined. Not humans.”