Portraits play a profound role in the development of art history. From ancient lintels depicting Lady Xok at the Maya site of Yaxchilan to Cindy Sherman’s constructions of identity, portraits of women reflect culture, history, and character formation processes. Throughout the development of Western art history, images of women fashioned by men relate narratives of femininity. Portraits by John Singleton Copley of Boston’s elite or José de Alcíbar’s paintings of nuns in commemoration of the affirmation of their vows in Colonial Mexico demonstrate how male artists created histories for specific women through the visual arts. At the dawn of the twentieth century, women artists became increasingly recognized and in particular, women who depicted fellow women received enhanced attention, notably the painter Mary Cassatt and the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
With art historical tradition in mind, “Women Imaging Women: A Study of Female Portraiture “examines how contemporary artists depict either themselves or other women. This exhibition asks: how do women present images of other women? By presenting a diverse group of artists working in myriad media, Women Imaging Women offers a complex study of how women artists portray womanhood. The included works provide varied representations as some are abstract and mystical, while others are naturalistic and earnest.
While the show offers a survey of female portraiture and therefore presents contrasting images, many of the works share similarities and invoke pride, confidence, and emanate with both bold meaning and style. Works by Mary Ellen Croteau, Judithe Hernández, Joyce Owens, and Patricia Peña reference the historical past. Paintings by Pritika Choudhry offer an intimate and haunting depiction of the artist herself. Photographs by Peggy Gentleman portray women in relatable moments of everyday existence, while photographs by Susan Tennenbaum suggest the fragility, strength, and resilience of teenagers.