Curator's Statement: Progress of the World's Women
by Anne B. Zill
Progress is in the eye of the beholder. It can be positive or negative, backward or forward, small or large, linear or digital, visible or invisible, real or imagined. Progress is as infinitely conceived as are women themselves.
The United Nations Special Session, Women 2000: Gender, Equality, Development and Progress for the 21st Century in New York, June, 2000, is an opportunity for government delegates and non-governmental organizations alike to assess progress in concrete terms, and to look for ways to come up with precise measurements to asses achievements of women around the world during this decade.
This exhibition of women's art, Progress of the World's Women is meant to complement our real world challenges and at the same time propel us beyond them. We can enter realms of the senses, myth and imagination, feelings, dream; and desires. We can celebrate our human creativity. If "progress" suggests a journey upward and onward, these artistic statements also offer us symbolic truths about where women really are, what matters to them, and what kind of futures they envision.
The art exhibition, June 5 through July 7, is sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the International Museum of Women (IMOW), and represents a collection of works of art across many cultures, mediums and materials. Several of the artists have achieved international prominence, others are well known inside their own countries, and still others have not yet garnered recognition and need to be known. A few, even in this age, are still "anonymous".
Some of these works are defined as traditional, craft, avant-garde, abstract, conceptual and constructions using paint, photography, cloth, metal, straw and print mechanisms.
All of these works of art are meant to expand our understanding of our world. These works, created for the most part by women in the last five years, allow us to interpret what we see as a collective statement in bold artistic terms about the power of women at the beginning of the 21st century. The exhibition also honors the traditional powers of women from the earliest times to this century just past. There is evidence here of a new conception of leadership designed by women around the planet -- in which power is shared, violence is abhorred, and friends, children, elders and our earth are nurtured.
This exhibition provokes our sensibilities, touches our emotions, and inspires us to envision a world where the promises of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, have been fulfilled.
The women's movement, through a series of UN conferences in the nineties, embraced the challenge of engendering development policies and practices to transform the quality of women's lives and ultimately human life. In June 2000, women and men leaders, advocates for gender equality and policy-makers gathered for a UN General Assembly Special Session to share insights and experiences gained through efforts to bring about gender equality, development and peace, the themes of the four world conferences on women. At this significant time when challenges are being confronted and new futures envisioned, the United Nations Development Fund For Women (UNIFEM), in partnership with the International Museum of Women, proudly presents an international art exhibition, Progress of the World's Women, in conjunction with the release of the UNIFEM's report of the same title. The exhibition is a bold statement by 70 women artists from over 50 countries.
The artistic process is itself empowering and transformational. The creative process, whether in art or in reshaping development, requires one to step out of a self that is constructed by others, while revealing other aspects of the self that are submerged by the dominant social discourse. It allows women to assert their own understanding of themselves and the societies in which they live.
No longer the objects of the artist's gaze, women have become the visionaries, the creators, and the agents of the kind of change they want to see in the world. Their art affirms a sense of shared identity and defies the stereotype of the artist as an individual removed from society. The artists in this exhibition demonstrate how, even when placed in circumstances not of their own making, women use their agency and creativity to change their lives, individually and collectively, thereby creating their own progress. Art becomes the space of a new shared subjectivity, the site of emergence for a new sense of solidarity and empowerment, which is a precondition for collective action and social change.
Women's art is not only about women defining their own realities -- it is about women redefining art itself. Women challenge conventional notions of art, and artist, conscious that art, like gender, is a socially constructed category that can be reshaped. This exhibition provides a space for women's art, in a variety of mediums and in all its diversity, to be seen, experienced and reflected upon.
Progress of the World's Women, through images, ideas or practice, shows how women themselves relate to the world, not just as solitary selves, but in connection with others. Women come to understand societies and their structures because of the lives that women lead, and not in spite of them. Like women's shaping of development, women's art reflects the realities of women's lives from within the processes of living. It requires enormous amounts of courage, not only to express oneself and to make a statement about one's view of the world, but also to live in deep connection with one's creative powers and to harness those powers to recast reality and reshape our lives. This is beauty; this is progress.