Women in Print Shows Self-Care
By Bri Robinson, 2021 Summer Micro-Intern for the Prints and Drawings Department
Women in Print: Recent Acquisitions debuts exciting additions to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection by contemporary women printmakers. From printmaking’s beginnings more than 500 years ago, techniques such as lithography and etching were often considered too physically demanding for women to pursue professionally. The medium became increasingly accessible to female artists over the past half century as Atelier 17 in New York and the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in New Mexico, among other printshops, trained a generation of women.
During my 2021 summer micro-internship in the CMA’s Prints and Drawings Department, I learned about a variety of artists and their techniques. Ruminating on the role of female artists and their relatively recent inauguration into the art historical canon, I was especially interested in the themes of womanhood, self-care, and the creative process. Each artist in this show brings a distinct point of view along with varying levels of printmaking expertise. Despite the many differences among methods, I found common threads of self-love and self-worth. With their own artistic agency in mind, a number of the women have explored how the medium can be cathartic and a source of healing and comfort for themselves, and in some capacities, for their communities. The following three artworks — one from the exhibition and two of my other favorites exploring similar themes from the CMA’s collection — are examples of my observations.
I’ve Been Good to Me by Mickalene Thomas is perhaps my favorite print in the CMA’s collection. Its dynamic textures and enormous scale (60 by 50 inches of pure beauty) are features that certainly catch the eye. The title and the work’s message of persistence, good intentions and self-love particularly resonated with me. Thomas is known for her elaborate dedications to Black womanhood, and I’ve Been Good to Me is a further manifestation of the love we give ourselves. Made as a mixed media print, the piece can seem complicated and overwhelming, but with deeper study, there’s intention in the work’s decadence. Thomas’s persistent narrative of the fluidity and complexity of Black womanhood isn’t absent here. Comfortably seated, the sitter projects with her posture a positive sense of self-worth and pride — a possible indication that the work’s title is a message that she’s relaying to herself, rather than a public declaration or a statement made for convincing. I personally interpreted the title as a statement made with thorough reflection, choice, and agency by the sitter.
While not on view in the exhibition, Adrian Piper’s Let’s Have a Talk was a focal point of my research last summer. The screenprint is a part of the Alternative Museum’s 1992 portfolio 10: Artist as Catalyst, a collaborative effort for the benefit of the institution. The print relates to a series of six drawings with this message: “Let’s have a talk / To bring us closer / As close friends do/ Come nearer/ May I stroke your back?” In each work, Piper appears as her 1972 alter ego, the Mythic Being, her attempt to closely understand the behaviors and thought processes of working-class American men in the 1970s. The piece provoked me to think heavily about gendered behaviors and vulnerability. I was reminded of how radical the act of initiating conversation can be, especially with those who are different from us. On its own, Let’s Have a Talk may initially seem ominous, as Piper has provided what can be considered both a complete and incomplete request from the Mythic Being. With more context, however, viewers can understand this inquiry as a perhaps innocent desire for closeness and connection.
Also part of the portfolio 10: The Artist as Catalyst, Lorna Simpson’s Cure/Heal is another recent CMA acquisition by a contemporary female artist and will be on view in the the upcoming exhibition Currents and Constellations: Black Art in Focus. The work is a meditation on growth and healing, contrasting the word “heal” with the image of soft leather high heels on a crushed velvet surface. The variety of textures and the use of text suggests a message deeper than beauty and fashion. There’s a difference between a cure and being healed: a cure is typically a temporary, ephemeral fix whereas being healed requires tenderness and a more languid and slow recovery. Composed in nearly all black, Cure/Heal is a dialogue on the temporary versus the ongoing
The medium of printmaking is extremely diverse, and it’s no surprise that the printmakers themselves bring a range of journeys and topics to the process. Despite these differences, a common goal of these artists is wellness and self-expression. As more and more non-white, non-male artists are brought into the spotlight, the art historical canon grows richer and more robust. I believe that these contributions are not only cathartic for artists and viewers but also work to enrich our society as well.
As we enter Women’s History Month in March, celebrate by viewing the FREE exhibition Women in Print: Recent Acquisitions in gallery 101. In the spirit of the exhibition, the CMA has partnered with four women-led printmaking organizations in northeast Ohio to bring a series of pop-up demonstrations. Stop by anytime this Saturday, Februrary 19, 12:00–4:00 p.m. for the first printmaking pop-up with Future Ink Graphics (FIG) and artist Dinara Mirtalipova.
Additional Printmaking Pop-Ups
- Saturday, March 19, 12:00–4:00 p.m.
Collaborate on an Etching, with Rebekah Wilhelm Studio
- Saturday, April 16, 12:00–4:00 p.m.
Making Monoprints, with Deep Dive Art Projects and Amani Williams
- Saturday, May 21, 12:00– 4:00 p.m.
Learn about Relief Printing, with Zygote Press and Grace Wen on the Zygote Mobile Art Press
And get ready for another FREE exhibition Currents and Constellations: Black Art in Focus opening Sunday, February 20.
Bri Robinson was the summer micro-intern in 2021 in the CMA’s Prints and Drawings Department. She earned her B.A. in art history and sociology from Kent State in the fall of 2020. Bri is a co-founder of the student-led reading group Anti-Racism and Criticism Collective and of the Black Femme Collective. She also worked as a curatorial assistant for Kent State’s TEXTURES exhibition, a landmark exploration of Black hair and its important, complicated place in the history of African American life and culture.