A Review of Milk and Night Exhibition at Sensei Gallery
Author | Rachel Hodin
Photography by Marie Tomanova
“And how does one ‘become a woman’? How does one earn this title? By being active.”
In 1977, Hélène Cixous wrote in “La venue à l’écriture,” “Eternity, it is the voice of milk mingled with night…” And when I happened upon Ange’s Instagram – one of the three members of fashion design and art collective threeASFOUR – I could hear echoes of the French feminist philosopher. Currently, Ange is using her Instagram as a quasi platform to showcase her work as a solo artist. In one Instagram post, she’s crassly sucking on a red lollipop, with rainbow-colored hair brushed exaggeratedly to one side and a caption that reads: “When Popping Your Cherry, Be Careful Not To Choke On The Stem.” It’s been thirty-seven years since “La venue à l’écriture” was published and yet women are still fighting the same feminist fight, just in more high-tech, abbreviated ways.
Freud was one of the many forces that drove Cixous to theorize and write on the subject of feminism. She was particularly irked by his theory on castration anxiety, which portrayed women as devoid of any unique qualities and, instead, described them within the confines of the male gender. To Freud, women were like men, except lacking. And while some might scoff at this absurd theory now, the truth is, we haven’t progressed much since. Cixous’ words feel just as urgent now as they did when she wrote them. “We all fell for this title,” Coco Dolle told me of “Milk and Night,” an all-female exhibition that’s currently on display at Sensei Gallery. “It is poetical and quite representative of a legacy of feminist thinkers.”Coco is one of the four curators of “Milk and Night,” whose work is also on display. Anne Sherwood Pundyk, another one of the curators whose art is on display as well, told me, “There is a crisis in feminism. Even as the fourth wave of feminism is generating attention and discussion, the pushback in politics and religion outweighs any progress.”
But to say there’s been no progress, whatsoever, would be to ignore the twenty-one artists featured in the show and the ways in which each of them found unique ways to express the power of a united feminist front.
Ange’s works – many of which you can find on her Instagram – consist of a series of “auto portraits,” as she calls them, or “emotional blueprints” that are basically a series of self-portraits, each representing a different character or disposition. She calls them “mood swinging,” a term that often stirs up the stigmatization of women. Why is it, for instance, that we never hear of men having emotional mood swings? It brings to mind the ugly side of women, the self-hating side. And it seems India Salvor Menuez, another artist featured in the show, shares this outlook with Ange. When I asked her for a succinct description of her feminist disposition, she told me to “Google ‘hot crazy matrix’” – which led me to a meticulously detailed matrix on the complexities and intricacies of crazy girls and how their level of hotness influences this – and to “meditate on that.”
As the title “Milk and Night” suggests, crucial to the idea of a united feminist front is paying heed to our feminist predecessors. Anne Sherwood Pundyk’s piece “The Revolution Will Be Painted” was inspired by painting’s notorious history of excluding women. Coco Dolle took this idea even further with her multimedia piece “Excavation Cave Of My Dreams.” After seeing the Werner Herzog documentary that told the story of the oldest human-painted caves in the South of France, Coco decided to imagine a world in which the first artist ever was a woman.
The perennial debate over whether or not women should openly declare themselves as feminists is, for these artists, irrelevant. For these women, being a feminist was never so much a choice as it was their only choice. To be a woman, however, requires a bit more effort. Coco directed me to a particularly relevant Simone de Beauvoir quote, “One is not born a woman, one becomes a woman.”
And how does one “become a woman”? How does one earn this title? By being active. And reverberating throughout the exhibit is a strong, active feminism – as well as an active fight against our society’s silent, yet deeply oppressive patriarchal forces – that could only be described as Nicki Minaj flavored. For her work “TRANACONDA MANCANDY,” Katie Cercone – another one of the show’s curators – played footage of protesters on the frontlines in Ferguson, Missouri, singing “this is a war cry,” with an image of an Anaconda snake eating a female avatar as visual overlay. It’s a spoof on Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” which pays heed to the curvy, feminine figure. And, when trying to navigate feminism, the female body — the place from which all of civilization sprung – feels like a perfect place to start.
When asked for a line that’s most representative of her feminist beliefs, Katie gave me the perfect Judy Chicago quote: “Cunt as temple, tomb, cave and flower.”
Do not miss the closing event on SUNDAY September 21st, 12-6PM (GALLERINAS: A Performance closing party)
Gallery Sensei is located at 278 Grand Street, 2nd Floor, NYC, 10002 (btwn Eldridge Street and Forsyth Street