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Courtesy Don Hall

Gallery makes space for female artists

By Danielle Kim, May 26 2016 —

A gallery on Stephen Avenue is about to get much more crowded.

Contemporary Calgary will present Material Girls, an eclectic all-female exhibition featuring 25 different artists from Canada and abroad starting May 26.

The exhibit is an homage to women taking up space in society and the art world. The theme is interpreted literally, as the curators envision the show as a reaction to traditional approaches to gallery space.

“We really wanted to break up the masculine ‘white cube’ aesthetic. We’re going to be painting the walls, and the gallery is going to feel like it’s been completely transformed,” says Jennifer Matotek, one of three curators who collaborated on the exhibition. “We made it clear to the artists that the presentation of their work was going to be atypical, and their work might be in closer proximity than they are used to.”

With works in many different media, the gallery will form an interactive space for patrons to immerse themselves in.

Iranian-American artist Morehshin Allahyari’s digital art demonstrates this immersion. The website, Like Pearls is one of her featured pieces.

The webpage is a mishmash of gaudy, sparkling GIFs of lingerie-clad Iranian women from advertisements. Their exposed bodies are intended to be censored and provocative at the same time. Musical accompaniment is provided by the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”

Matotek says Allahyari’s message focuses on the male gaze.

“The average Iranian man would find these images in his webmail spam folder. [Allahyari] is looking at the element of control that’s really key in what an [Iranian] man is supposed to do for his wife,” Matotek says. “Ultimately, it’s about the male gaze and male pleasure, and she’s showing us how the Muslim world depicts the female body — which is essentially to erase it.”

First Nations artist Marie Watt also contributed work. Colourful stacks of blankets reaching from the floor to the ceiling represent a descent through female family lines and the act of passing down knowledge through generations of women.

“Each blanket has a peg on it that tells the story of the exchange that happened between the artist and the donor, so it’s tied to the Native American tradition of the potlatch,” Matotek says.

The curators of Material Girls deliberately chose artists from a wide spectrum of cultural backgrounds to ensure that a variety of perspectives are represented.

“There’s so many female artists that are doing interesting things; being really sensuous and referencing the female body and the use of material,” Matotek says. “So much of being a female is your own identity and you can’t talk about female identity without cultural identity.”

Material Girls runs from May 26 to August 21 at Contemporary Calgary. A tour from featured artist Raphaëlle de Groot and a discussion with exhibit curator Wendy Peart will occur on May 28 at 1:00 p.m.

For more information, visit contemporarycalgary.com

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Jennifer Matotek, a curator for Material Girls, as as Jennifer Tomatek. Additionally, the artist Morehshin Allahyari’s name was spelled incorrectly.

The Gauntlet apologizes to our readers for these errors.

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