War, with a woman's touch
Exhibit showcases work of female veterans
04/11/2012 10:00 PM
When the National Veterans Art Museum’s staff found out that the Chicago Park District wasn’t willing to let stay in the South Loop location past the end of the lease, they tried not to plan their programming too far ahead. But that didn’t mean they wouldn’t plan anything at all. And so, on March 10, the museum opened “Overlooked/Looked Over”: an exhibit that showcases the work of eight female veterans.
The exhibit was motivated by the desire to showcase the work that reflects the unique experience of female veterans. It intends to offer insight on how military culture and war affects women.
“The title of the exhibit comes from a quote by Mae West,” said museum spokeswoman Sarah Eilefson. “‘I’d rather be looked over than overlooked.’ Women in military are either defined by their gender or ignored”
In the press release, the exhibit’s curator Erica Slone elaborated.
“Depending on one’s own definition of feminism, Mae West could be either the quintessential feminist or anti-feminist,” Slone said in the release. “Her statement, however, presents a false dichotomy of attitudes about women, and the coexistence of these polar attitudes toward women is exacerbated within our armed forces.”
The exhibit has been in the works for eight months. Slone, an Iraq War veteran and an artist in her own right, was invited to serve as the curator by National Veterans Art Museum Executive Director Levi Moore.
“I chose [them] through networking, using my established connections,” said Slone. “Some were special invitations, some were recommended through friends.”
The result is a diverse exhibit that included paintings, sculptures, photographs and a video installation. They deal with the themes of identity and touch on sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and other weighty, deeply personal topics.
Slone said that she was proud to have assembled such a strong exhibit. She is particularly impressed with its variety of voices.
“I think the strong point of exhibit,” said Slone, “is that we have different women veterans from different backgrounds, with different options. I think a lot of times, we wind up with shows where everyone has the same voice, and it’s not very interesting.”
With the museum’s lease extended until the end of November, the exhibit is currently scheduled to run until Memorial Day. And, according to Eilefson, the exhibit may be moved to another venue, allowing Chicagoans to see it for months to come — though nothing’s on the books yet.
“Women and veterans organizations alike have inquired about moving the exhibit after Memorial Day,” said Slone. “But nothing has been decided yet.”
Eilefson told us that she was aware that the exhibit’s themes might make some potential visitors uncomfortable, but she doesn’t believe that it would drive them away.
“We are dealing with a difficult topic,” she said, “but we don’t think people go to the museum for light entertainment.”