Where are the great women artists? That was the question Montana Simone Mathieu, Director of IDIO in Bushwick, asked herself as she began curating the gallery’s most recent show. Along with Nico Mazza and Arianne Keegan, founders of women’s art collective She/Folk, Mathieu set out to start a conversation about female representation in art—what it means and where it’s headed.
Bringing together a diverse group of female-identified artists, the gallery’s She/Folk exhibit explores representations of the feminine through a variety of media including installations, performances and photography. AWT is taking part too, with an installation based on our Minimalism issue.
We sat down with Mathieu and Mazza to find out more about the show.
AWT: Tell us about She/Folk: how did the concept come together?
Montana Simone Mathieu: We’ve been hosting underrepresented art in New York since March  and trying to show things in a way that is as close to the artistic impulse itself as possible. Nico and Arianne have been curating an online gallery of female-identified artists and we hit it off in terms of aesthetics and choices. The show just naturally started building.
Nico Mazza: That was our goal. Online we’ve lived in a lot of places. We do a lot of story-collecting, like having writers and artists contribute to the website, but we really wanted to do something out in the world. She/Folk is all about being inclusive. We work with women who aren’t really represented in New York yet, or they’re emerging. I think it’s really cool to be able to show them in a gallery.
What does it mean to have an all-woman show?
MSM: There are a lot of all-woman shows going on right now, but there are so many different ways to present women artists. Early on, we were like: is this going to be a woman art show? No one wants to be in a girl band, they want to be in a band. No one wants to be a female artist, they want to be an artist. At first we thought of the show as being curated aesthetically, not from a feminist standpoint, but as it developed, the truth is that we were showing only women. I don’t think that we’re quite there yet in terms of a post-gender world, so it’s really interesting to recognize what’s going on but also try to do something that is reacting to a social reality, which is underrepresentation.
This group brings forward a different kind of strength. It seems like the places where power is being held are different from the places where male artists usually find their power—we have Dot Vile holding cinder blocks off the ground with gauze. And we have incredibly powerful, colorful, joyful embroidery by Nico Mazza that displays a connection to traditions that have always been female but in this sort of fun, light way that I haven’t seen a lot of male artists really accomplish. So we’re bridging female traditions and having them not be stereotypically female in any way, but definitely palpably feminine.
NM: The thing about the show that I’m really excited about is everyone’s idea of how they perceive feminism. Right now, I find myself struggling with the word because the way we always talk about it is that women are always empowered. I’m also interested in the other side of it, which is when women are submissive, or when women are not so powerful. That’s something that’s not addressed enough and a lot of pieces in the show touch on that. I’m excited about the conversation that’s going to happen because I don’t want to be pigeonholed into the idea that feminism is a strong thing for everyone because I don’t think it’s perfect and ideal all the time.
She/Folk brings together a lot of different elements including installations, performances and a panel discussion. Tell us a little bit about what each of those elements reflects and how they work together to develop the artistic vision.
MSM: I wanted the pieces themselves to stand alone as fine art. We’re trying to have a diversity of media in the show, so I thought it would be great to have the artists speak and really address the idea of what this all means within the context of the world, the art happening today and our community. The panel we’re hosting starts out with the artists talking about what it means to have all-woman show. And Jacqueline Mabey of Art+Feminism will moderate some guest speakers to diversify the views. Lucy Kerr is going to be doing a performance piece. She’s an incredible performance artist and she’ll be doing a performance called “The World of Wrestling” which involves a pile of mulch in which she writhes and dances.
What are some of the things you hope people take away from the show?
MSM: I’m hoping that these types of shows will one day become unnecessary and that people take away the ideas of the artists themselves. I would like people to walk out and as an afterthought be like: those were all women artists and that was a show of the highest caliber—how am I going to think differently about any other show I go to, and the gender balance of that show?
NM: The work that we’re showing is not necessarily about feminism but it’s high caliber work and that’s what matters. I just hope people appreciate it, that’s my goal.
She/Folk runs from September 18 to October 4 at IDIO Gallery in Brooklyn.
With contemporary art & performance by:
Dot Vile, Dana James, Madeline Gallucci, Juliet Martin, Juli Elin Toro, Claire Durand-Gasselin, Nico Mazza, Megan Karson, Lucy Kerr, Elizabeth Bick and Montana Simone
Photos by Saskia Ketz, A Women’s Thing