PART TWO. Peter Frank, curator of the Global Women Project, shares his insight with Installation on the project and its founding artist, California-based Jennifer White Kuri. The Global Women Project is a work in progress of painted portraitures of influential women. Once complete it will be shown in its entirety, paintings and related materials, in coordination with the Biennale de Venezia.
The Global Women Project (GWP) is an evolving cycle of multimedia portraits that, when completed, will chronicle thirteen influential women from around the world who are working to improve their social, political and physical environments. Conceived by Jennifer White Kuri in 2007, the Global Women Project presents these women in a pictorial and documentary manner that defines their personalities and professional and spiritual purposes. Subjects are chosen on the basis of extensive research into various global and regional concerns, and into women who address these concerns through both individual and governmentally sanctioned initiatives.
Influenced by her work with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the art of the California-based Kuri may be grounded in pure painting but is sustained by the pertinence of social process and relevance as well as by aesthetic intent. Accordingly, all materials and documents involved in research and composition of the paintings are as integral to the project as are the paintings themselves. The process of compiling information and translating it to canvas is key to the Global Women Project’s overall conception as well as production. As a result, the Project comprises of finished paintings, notations and studies, and other preparatory materials. In Arezzo, accordingly, the GWP display—its first abroad—includes notebooks (documenting collaborative efforts with GWP subjects), journals, print-outs of research documentation and even elements for the final paintings fabricated on-site during ICASTICA’s opening week done by GWP collaborator Mick Bender.
In effect, Kuri transferred her entire GWP studio to Arezzo for ICASTICA’s debut and has left much of it there for the duration of the exhibition. I must disclose my stake Global Women Project (not to be confused with ICASTICA’s own subtitle, the dysphonic portmanteau Glocal Women). Kuri, the only American participant not from New York, appointed me curator of the Project at its first public presentations in Los Angeles four years ago, and I designed its presentation in Arezzo. The Project’s inclusion in ICASTICA seems logical, and almost to mirror ICASTICA’s own inaugural purpose. The GWP is the only didactically feminist work in the show, a dense island of information and narrative in a sea of classical repose and baroque elegance provided as much by the other artists in ICASTICA as by Arezzo itself. Kuri’s paintings are quite obviously “art”—in some ways the most traditionally made objects in the entire Biennale—but the GWP is at the same time a sociological undertaking with a propagandistic purpose, in fact making overt what ICASTICA advocates covertly, the revelation of women’s power in the world. The GWP’s presence in ICASTICA is built around a work of one “Global Woman,” Lebanese journalist Soula Saad; her documentary film, a portrayal of Arab women artists and culturati (or, more accurately, culturate), is thus a work about women inside a work about women inside a show about women’s work.
As a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, Kuri studied with leading painters of the San Francisco Bay Area Figurative School, including Joan Brown and Elmer Bischoff. As a result, Kuri’s method features stylized figuration, a coloristic bravado, and humor, as well as an openness to extraneous references and materials that provide a basis for her wide-ranging conceptual and narrative expression. To date, the Global Women Project comprises five portraits, in various states of completion. In ICASTICA, two of the portraits are shown thoroughly, one nearing completion and one complete. The finished portrait is of Soula Saad, a Beirut-based filmmaker who documented the non-violent youth movement that sparked Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, is shown in its entirety. Saad’s tripartite painting has been stretched and mounted, the documents compiled to inform the painting are arrayed nearby, and excerpts from her film-in-progress, Women, World Vision, and Voices, playback on a monitor in the exhibition. Women, World Vision, and Voices documents the activities and presence of women artists around the world, including painters, musicians, writers, and dancers. Some of these women actively militate for change in their societies; others simply practice their art and serve as dynamic examples of invention and accomplishment.
The painting of Panamanian educator, legal expert, and former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nivia Rossana Castrellón Echeverría is approaching completion, and is also accompanied by its documentation. For its part, the painted depiction of Saudi Arabian journalist and women’s rights activist Nadine Al Bedair nears completion in Kuri’s Los Angeles studio. Sample documents here represent Al Bedair’s life and activities, as they do the life and work of American oceanographer and environmental activist Dr. Sylvia Earle, the next subject of the Global Women Project. A notational “self-portrait” by Kuri depicts the artist in the act of painting, but subject to the same documentary examination her Global Women undergo.
WORDS BY THE ARTIST
“The best part of ICASTICA for me was the solidarity that happened among the female artists working and being together in Arezzo. It was inspiring and exhilarating. We had to adjust to everything from the simple challenges of weather and language to the logistical complexities of installation. Once I saw my exhibition space and became acquainted with it I had to reinvent while keeping intact my vision for the project. All these challenges contributed to the development of new layers and dimensions in my installation. But, we all went through something like this. With all of us having a similar experience, the bond created between the artists was powerful, and the camaraderie lives on.It was a blessing to have international relations expert Paivi Tirkkonen to introduce the Global Women Project concept to ICASTICA curator, Fabio Migliorati. His culling of artists from six continents was laudable. As an artist it is easy to be consumed by the logistics and requirements necessary along the road to an exhibition. More often than one can imagine I want to shed these very real issues and focus on the creative. I was fortunate to have Stuart Gibson on my side to direct international logistics.” – Jennifer White Kuri
Featured image: Crates containing entire GWP studio “in the moment” packed up and shipped to Arezzo, Italy for ICASTICA, © Global Women Project 2013
To read PART ONE of Peter Frank’s coverage click here