A Beauteous Tree: Margaret Fuller's Femality
The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art and the UNLV Jean Nidetch CARE Center are proud to present A Beauteous Tree: Margaret Fuller’s Femality. Curated by Jenessa Kenway, a doctoral candidate in literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, this exhibition illuminates the under-studied nineteenth-century author Margaret Fuller’s concept of “femality” by pairing artworks from the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art’s permanent collection with quotes from Fuller and other feminist writers. A Beauteous Tree includes work by Las Vegas artist Lolita Develay, along with a series of contemporary artists’ self-portraits inspired by Fuller’s writings. Visitors will be able to take part in an interactive activity that invites them to explore Fuller’s expansive ideas about gender by visualizing themselves as trees.
“Misconceptions regarding gender roles and issues of gender inequality persist within society,” says Kenway. “Considering gender in new ways will help us examine heterocentric norms while finding common ground. Fuller’s feminist and transcendentalist notions of fluidity and transformation offer a path towards a more holistic perspective on gender and reconsideration of what constitutes masculine and feminine gender aesthetics.”
Fuller addresses the issue of gender in her 1841 essay, The Great Lawsuit, in which she urges equal rights for women and defines “femality”: “Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.” Kenway curates excerpts from The Great Lawsuit, and the works of other authors - including Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, and Donna Harraway - together with paintings, sculptures, and prints by a range of artists such as Mary Warner, Lance L. Smith, Harold Paris, and James Gobel, to create verbal-visual connections that provide a focal point for theory and story.
Local artists have been commissioned to create tree self-portraits to probe ideas that Fuller explores in her 1841 short story, The Magnolia of Lake Pontchartrain. Here, tree imagery displaces traditional gender binaries and instead constructs identity from leaves, flowers, fruit, and branches. Visitors are invited to submit tree-portraits of their own, either digitally or in person at the Museum. The portraits will be compiled into a free virtual catalog - a “forest” family album that tells local stories of identity and transformation.
Kenway says, “The focal point of trees reflects upon gender, but also visually manifests new growth and the period of renewal occurring within our community, coinciding with springtime and feelings of hope as COVID-19 vaccinations become increasingly available. A Beauteous Tree is an opportunity to share positive gender representation and grow together as a community after the long winter of the pandemic lockdown.”
Beauteous Tree features artwork by Lolita Develay, James Gobel, Mary Cady Johnson, Holly Lay, Eric LoPresti, Zully Mejia, Amadeo Modigliani, Harold Paris, JK Russ, Lance L. Smith, Xiaomeng Tang, and Mary Warner.
A Beauteous Tree: Margaret Fuller’s Femality runs from May 28 - July 24, 2021. Entry to the museum is free. Please see the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art website to read our safety guidelines.
Jenessa Kenway would like to give thanks to the Nevada Humanities, The National Endowment for the Humanities, Bobbie Ann Howell for their generous support; to Margaret Campe at the Jean Nidetch CARE Center for partnering with her and seeing the merit in her project and showing patience through every step of the process; to the Margaret Fuller Society for their exceptional support and encouragement; for the swift and helpful guidance of Michele Frankovich and Stephanie Paige at UNLV Office of Sponsored Programs; to all the participating artists for taking a chance on her tree portrait idea; to Dr. John Hay for introducing her to Margaret Fuller and nurturing her interest; to Dr. Beth Rosenberg for guiding her through feminist theory; to the wonderful staff of the Marjorie Barrick for believing in her exhibition concept and for their willingness to stop whatever they were doing and talk about the show with her whenever she needed.
Support for this exhibition is provided by the UNLV Jean Nidetch CARE Center, a Nevada Humanities Project Grant, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and the WESTAF Regional Arts Resilience Fund, a relief grant developed in partnership with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support arts organizations in the 13-state western region during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Digital submissions to the tree self-portrait activity can be posted to Instagram with the hashtag #TreeSelfPortraits or emailed to email@example.com. Physical submissions can be dropped off at the front desk in the Barrick Museum lobby. Email submissions must be at least 300 dpi. Instagram submissions will not be included in the catalog. Now, imagine yourself as a tree. What would that tree look like? What kind of tree would you be? What kind of tree matches your life activities? character? Who you are as a person? Were you one kind of tree when you started life and now feel that you have changed tree-types?
Margaret Fuller (1810 - 1850) famously asserted that there is “no essential difference” between men and women. She believed that giving everyone equal opportunity would restore to society what it was so desperately lacking: the equal contributions of all its citizens. In this free virtual talk, Fuller scholar Dr. Christina Katopodis will draw on the image of the magnolia tree in Fuller’s short story, “The Magnolia of Lake Pontchartrain,” to outline comparisons between the unfurling taxonomies of plants and of gender(s), framing all attempts to categorize and classify as mere moments in a fluid, ever-evolving process of living and growing. The talk will take place on Wednesday, June 16th, at 12 p.m. PDT. Christina Katopodis, PhD, is the Executive Director at Transformative Learning in the Humanities at the City University of New York (CUNY). A scholar of environmental studies, sound studies, and American literature, she has written articles published in ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, and Profession. Her book project, “Sound Ecologies: Listening to America’s Literary Vibrations from Emerson to Standing Rock,” argues that embodiment and relationality are key to understanding the American literary soundscape and examines both human and nonhuman sonic occupations of territory. Her work has been supported by the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society and the National Science Foundation, and numerous grants from The Graduate Center, CUNY.
About the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art
The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art believes everyone deserves access to art that challenges our understanding of the present and inspires us to create a future that holds space for us all. Located on the campus of the most racially diverse university in the United States, we strive to create a nourishing environment for those who continue to be neglected by contemporary art museums, including BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ groups. As the only art museum in the city of Las Vegas, we commit ourselves to leveling barriers that limit access to the arts, especially for first-time visitors. To facilitate access for low-income guests we provide free entry to all our exhibitions, workshops, lectures, and community activities. Our collection of artworks offers an opportunity for researchers and scholars to develop a more extensive knowledge of contemporary art in Southern Nevada. The Barrick Museum is part of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
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