August 2020 marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. In commemoration of this event, the Grinnell College Museum of Art is presenting work by more than 50 women artists represented in the Museum of Art’s collection.
The 19th Amendment states, in part, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." It is perhaps ironic to celebrate such an achievement with this exhibition, the contents of which are abridged solely on account of sex, and we present it fully cognizant of this irony, in contrast to the countless exhibitions over the millennia that have been abridged of women participants without such awareness, or so much as a second thought.
The fight for women’s suffrage was arduous and long, and as we see in almost every struggle — particularly those that characterized the 20th century — a total victory, which may first appear clear and which gains its annual commemoration on our calendar, is rarely fully won. The common response is exclamatory, a call to arms: “The fight’s not over!” “We’ve still so far to go!” and “We’re not done yet!” All these battle cries are laudable and true, but we live in perilous times — a public health crisis; an economic crisis; a social justice crisis; and, looming ahead of us, a potential election crisis, in which the votes of American women will be more critical than at any time in the past 100 years. Many of us are steadfast at the barricades even as we speak, while others of us are nearly "fight"ed out.
The title of this exhibition comes from a New York Times interview, published on June 11, of the artist Faith Ringgold, who is one of the artists on view in this exhibition. 89 years old, widowed in February, then isolated in her New Jersey home for months by the pandemic, she speaks of her trouble finding footing and her voice amidst every day’s new bad news. “‘I’m just keeping my eyes wide open so I can find a point of view on all this,’ she said with a sigh. ‘I’ve been waiting for the inspiration that can help me inspire others.’” One way forward is found in her own words: “let yourself continue.” In today’s onslaught of chaos, there is the epic work — for security, equality and justice — and then there is the daily work: staying employed, staying engaged, staying well. The artists presented in this exhibition are not grouped to reflect complementary styles, unified pursuits, or collective actions, but to emphasize the individual voice of each as an artist. For the sake of visual harmony, and perhaps some discoverable affinities, however, we’ve arranged them according to a few themes, that may say something as well about the shape of our ever growing collection.
We hope this virtual exhibition will pique our audience’s interest in further exploring the Museum’s online database. We are constantly bringing more of the collection online, and hope to use this exhibition as an opportunity to fill out the story of each object via student, faculty staff and community research and insight.
— Daniel Strong, Associate Director and Curator of Exhibitions
Right: Faith Ringgold, American, b. 1930. To Be or Not to Be Free, 2014. Lithograph, 30 x 22 in. © Faith Ringgold. Grinnell College Museum of Art Collection.