There’s a body in the hallway of the Yale Divinity School. Maybe it’s a mummy wrapped in linen, or a cast with a form inside it. Whatever the case, it’s on an ironing board, and it’s hard to miss the spikes driven into the spot where its sternum would be. Look again, and you see that a cable is wrapped around the body. One end goes to an outlet in the floor. The other to the iron itself. It is, in a sense, the embodiment of domestic violence — and standing next to it, it feels like a rebuke. Could you have done something to stop it?
Shelby Head’s Power Figure one piece from among works by 160 artists from New York, Boston, and Maine, but mostly hailing from the New Haven area, who are part of Nasty Women Connecticut’s latest exhibit, “Complicit: Erasure of the Body,” running now through March 31 at the Yale Divinity School on Prospect Street. All the pieces are responding to the exhibit’s theme of complicity — that is, getting people to think about how, whether through action or inaction, they may be perpetuating a culture that allows sexual violence to continue.
The riotous exhibit, which spills through the halls of the Divinity School, is intended as a form of “disruption,” McClure said, not only in in its theme, but also in bringing the New Haven community to Yale, and getting Yale more out in the community.
The exhibit ended up at Yale Divinity School when Laura Worden, a graduate student there, reached out to Nasty Women CT during the Kavanaugh hearings and the protests in reaction. She thought about Kavanaugh’s connections to Yale, and Yale’s response.
“Curating art exhibitions is the way I process things,” Worden said. She wrote McClure an email explaining that she’d like to involved. And, she said, “we have walls” to hang art on.
The idea McClure and Worden hatched was to dig a little deeper. It was one thing to protest Kavanaugh. It was another to examine the culture that produced him, not only at Yale, but in broader society. McClure found that there was a “gray area” between actively supporting that culture and actively working against it.
“The gray area is this act of complicity,” Worden said. “We have allowed for things to happen by turning our faces away.” And that complicity, she said, “erases people” from the scene. “As we raise up some voices, we have to make sure we’re not silencing others.”
McClure agreed. They made the exhibit an open call to attract both established and emerging artists, “all unified through a single message, and through the arts,” McClure said. They also created a coalition of organizations to support the exhibit, from the New Haven Pride Center and Black Lives Matter to Artspace and the Center for British Art to Miya’s, Rawa and Claire’s. The coalition-building was intended to bridge divides across race, gender, culture — and town and gown. “It starts the dialogue,” McClure said.
“As a student here I have been welcomed by the community,” Worden said. “It’s important to welcome the community to the Divinity School.” Having the exhibit at the Divinity School felt particularly important, she continued, because “there are people going into ministry, people who are going to be faith leaders. This is a time for students to reflect on how faith leaders and scholars can make a change.”
There is much to think about. Patti Maciesz’s BillthePatriarchy.com invites passersby to calculate the dollar worth of the time they spend taking care of others — in particular, time spent in the home doing the work to care for a family. Most pointed (and fun) is an invoice made out to the patriarchy for running a household. After calculating that cooking, cleaning, and otherwise running a household and caring for those in it takes up about 205 hours a week, the invoice bills the patriarchy for that work at $20 per hour — or $4,100 a week, for a yearly salary of $213,000 a year. Adding a “woman tax” of $240 and adjusting for the $44,822 wage gap between men and women, the full invoice comes to $258,262 a year. Visitors are encouraged to fill out invoices of their own.
By constructing a spiked breastplate from colored pencils, in one arresting object Molly Gambardella makes a deep, complex statement on the way an artist might use art for protection. How acute are the threats from the outside that such a breastplate must be constructed? And what is being locked inside when the artist puts it on?
Several of the pieces in the exhibit employ religious motifs to examine those institutions and their possible roles in fomenting oppression against women. Brooke Sheldon’s Hi, My Name Is Mary takes specific aim at Christianity and the way that Mary is both held up and silenced. It’s a forceful comment on how, in the Catholic Church organization in particular, women are both revered and reviled, singled out for veneration while completely excluded from having any real power or voice at all.
In another part of the exhibit, yet in direct conversation with Sheldon’s piece, Bek Andersen’s Hot Mamma suggests what kinds of powerful new forms of religious thought and practice might emerge if the patriarchy is removed from religious institutions, and women given more power to speak and act.
Down the hall, Susan Clinard’s Surviving Sexual Trauma: The Shedding and Shelving of Memory reasserts the basic humanity of the victims of sexual violence in a moving, profound way. As Clinard herself writes in an artist statement, “she’s looking back at you, yes you, the viewer. The viewer is not just you it is all of us. As we awaken from our toxic slumber of institutional masochistic and patriarchal behavior, as both women and boys step up to speak the truth about surviving their sexual trauma. She asks us to see her and acknowledge her story ... our story.
“This installation reveals an intimate corner of a room where a woman invites you to see her story of trauma and healing, Clinard continues. “How she has compartmentalized, shelved, stored away memories of her past. How she has shed her skin and feelings of entrapment, sorrow, pain and loss. Where she has unraveled the layers of shame and isolation.
“Although this sculpture may be difficult to look at I offer it as a cathartic awakening, a visual story of the process of healing. It is for all of you who have suffered sexual trauma. I carry your strength with me every day.”
In putting together this sprawling exhibit, McClure and Worden were quick to acknowledge its limitations. “We’re not solving all the problems” with an art exhibit, McClure said. “But what are we going to do, sit back and complain?” Making the exhibit, and making art, can be a model for how to “collaborate and mobilize,” and bring more people into the fold.
To that end, Nasty Women will celebrate the exhibit with an official opening at Yale Divinity School from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Mar. 8, open to the public for free. This will be followed by an afterparty at Cafe Nine at 9 p.m., featuring stalwarts of the New Haven music scene Daniprobably, Lys Guillorn, and Mooncha, along with poet Sun Queen and emcee Sha McAllister. It’s a chance for the artists and the public to connect, mingle, share ideas, and even sing.
“People just want to have a voice,” McClure said.
“Complicit: Erasure of the Body” runs at Yale Divinity School, 409 Prospect St., through March 31. For more information about the exhibit and related events, visit Nasty Women CT’s website.