2016 WCA Lifetime Achievement Awardees
Tomie Arai's art helps us construct a sense of who we are as individuals, as a society, or as a nation. She questions stereotypes and conventions while exploring attributes such as gender, sexuality, race, nationality and heritage. She uses interdisciplinary, collaborative methods to illuminate intersectionality. Her work makes a strong case for the idea that art and artists play key parts in the process defining, depicting and respecting cultural identities.
Arai positions herself as a public artist who brings"art directly to
the community" (http://tomiearai.com). Her site-specific public installations present layers of visual information, creating an archeological sense of discovery for the viewer. The artist explores shared histories, often using archival found photographs and imagery associated with traditional Japanese printmaking to produce work that seeks to promote cultural equity. This art practice places her firmly within the Feminist tradition, in
terms of both process and intention. Elizabeth Sackler, of the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn museum, cites "equality, equity, justice" as central values in the decades long project of feminist art. Arai's art pursues these values in ways both obvious and subtle. Her use of autobiography and her evocation of the domestic elevate aspects of life that have, in patriarchal
context, been considered stereotypically feminine and therefore trivial.
Arai is collaborative in her process, seeking to "use social
interaction as a medium for both production and investigation" (http://tomiearai.com). She has designed temporary and permanent public works of art for Creative Time, the US General Services Administration Art in
Architecture Program, the NYC PerCent for Art Program, the Cambridge
Arts Council, the MTA Arts for Transit Program, the New York City Board of Education and the San Francisco Arts Commission.
Her public works are both monumental and personal, while her artist books provide a more immediate, in-hand contemplation of the construction of cultural and personal identity. These pieces are permutations of traditional forms, using paper wood, glass, and printed images to construct objects that are both intimate and surprising. Aria's artist books evoke the experience of discovering a forgotten treasure in the attic, an old piece of silk or cache of letters, something that reveals a previously untold story.
Arai's work has been exhibited nationally and is in the collections of the Library of Congress, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Japanese American National Museum, the Williams College Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. She has been a recipient of two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships in Printmaking for 1991 and 1994; a 1995 Joan Mitchell Visual Arts Grant, a 1994 National Endowment for the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship for Works on Paper and three MidAtlantic Arts Foundation Visual Artists Residency Grants. In 1997, she was one of ten women nationwide to receive an Anonymous was a Woman Grant for achievement in the visual arts. In the year 2000, Tomie Arai was one of 50 artists nationwide to participate in the Artists & Communities: America Creates for the Millennium Project, sponsored by the
MidAtlantic Arts Foundation and the NEA. She was a recipient of a 2003 MCAF grant, a 2007 Urban Artists Initiative Grant, a 2007 Arts and Activism grant from the Asian Women Giving Circle and a 2013 Puffin Foundation grant.
SHEILA LEVRANT DE BRETTEVILLE
Helene Aylon is a visual, conceptual, and installation artist and an eco-feminist whose work has been exhibited around the world.
Through her art, she has explored the intersectionality among her feminism, the Orthodox Judaism of her upbringing, and her place in a war-torn world.
Helene Aylon (born Helene Greenfield, February 4, 1931) was born in
Brooklyn and received an orthodox Jewish upbringing. At the age of 18, she married a rabbi to whom she had become engaged while still in high school. She bore two children and was only 30 when her husband died of cancer.
Prior to her husband's death, Aylon enrolled as an art student at Brooklyn College, where she studied under Ad Reinhardt. After finishing college, she was commissioned to paint a mural for the youth employment center in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. When photographed for a newspaper article, she said that her name was HelÈne Aylon, in which she used the Hebrew equivalent of her first name as her surname. She subsequently taught at San Francisco State University and California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.
Aylon's first notable work, Rauch (Spirit, Wind, Breath) (1965), was a 16-foot mural, commissioned for the now-defunct Synagogue Library at JFK International Airport, that attempted to portray Judaism through the eyes of women.
Her work can be divided into three phases: Process art (1970s), anti-nuclear art (1980s), and The G-d Project (1990s and early 2000s), a feminist commentary on the Hebrew Bible and other established traditions.
Aylon's earliest exploration of process art was done in California in the 1970s. She created a series called Paintings That Change (1974-77), which included Tar Pouring, Drifting Boundaries, Receding Beige, and Oval on Left Edge. All of the works consisted of oil on paper which would slowly transform as the oil moved, relying on chance.
By the 1980s, Aylon, was a self-described eco-feminist. She began to create anti-nuclear and eco-activist art, which included Earth Ambulance (photo right). This work consisted of an "ambulance" (a converted U-Haul van) that symbolized an attempt to save the world from nuclear war. Using the Earth Ambulance, Aylon gathered dirt from Strategic Air Command nuclear bases, uranium mines, and nuclear reactors from across the United States. She stuffed the dirt into pillowcases and used them in a demonstration at the United Nations during the Second Special Session on Nuclear Disarmament on June 12, 1982.
After the death of Aylon's husband in 1961, she began to develop an idea of reformed Judaism that rejected the patriarchal notions in the Five Books of Moses. In the 1990s, Aylon began work on The G-d Project, a nine-part project that spanned two decades. The first work, The Liberation of G-d, contains the five books of Moses, in English and Hebrew, which sit on velvet-covered stands. Each page is covered in translucent parchment. The sound of turning parchment pages was recorded and played in a loop while the work was on exhibition. Aylon placed the 54 sections of the Torah on glass
shelves along a wall, adjacent to the five books of Moses, and used a pink highlighter to mark phrases that, according to her, convey patriarchal attitudes. She also targeted words or phrases that conveyed a sense of vengeance, deception, cruelty, and misogyny that had been falsely attributed to God. The work was first exhibited in Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art in March 1996. During the exhibition, Aylon formally invited area rabbis to visit and discuss her work.
In 1997, she completed The Women's Section (photo left), the second work in The G-d Project, which is dedicated to women whose estranged husbands do not grant them a religious divorce, making it impossible for them to remarry. Included are texts from the Torah that speak of women's "impurity" and "virginity." In 1998, Aylon created the third work in the series, My Notebooks, which consists of 54 blank 8.5 × 11′ notebooks that form a group of columns. The closed notebooks, with their dark covers, form black columns; the open notebooks form white columns. A transparency of Aylon's photographs from a Jewish girl's school is projected across the notebooks. The work is "Dedicated to Mrs. Rashi and to Mrs. Maimonides, for surely they have something to say and was intended to be a statement on women's lack of scholarship and participation in education." It also alludes to the female teachers of Aylon's all-female school, who could only
teach commentary from male rabbis. The final work in The G-d Project
is All Rise, an imagined feminist court where women who have been
forbidden on a Beit Din, the Jewish court of law, can now judge.
In 1999, Aylon created Epilogue: Alone with My Mother and My Bridal
Chamber: My Marriage Contract. The latter is a simple bed covered in a white bedspread that Aylon constructed from handkerchiefs and a wedding canopy. Around it are four columns with superimposed projetions of photographs that show the artist in her wedding gown. Behind the headboard, Aylon wrote quotes from Leviticus concerning women's "uncleanliness" and "impurity." The work was meant to be a comment on marital and religious constraints felt by woman. In 2002, Aylon created The Partition is in Place, but the Service Can't Begin, a comment on the segregation of male and female worshippers in the synagogue. As noted by Aylon, "The material I thought appropriate for the Partition that separates male and female worshippers is made of the ritual garb worn by religious men. But if there were nine male worshippers and one thousand female worshippers, the service could not begin because the service requires the presence of ten men."
2016 WCA Lifetime Achievement Awards