BATH — The Chocolate Church Art Gallery’s new show, “A Woman’s Place,” is somewhat startling, by Bath standards.

The gallery is not typically the kind of place where one might see socio-political, controversial, or intensely personal contemporary work. It is, in fact, the kind of place where one may see more pastoral works reflective of Maine’s natural beauty than, say, a painting that screams “RESIST!”

But “A Woman’s Place,” running through May 18 in the performance venue’s art gallery, is in fact, intensely personal, and inarguably provocative, forcing the viewer to confront and examine stories — both triumphant and painful — of women from a wide spectrum of “the American dream.”

The show was culled largely in the wake of the 2017 Women’s March and election of President Trump, who was recorded speaking openly about assaulting women.

What’s different about this “feminist art” show is that these pieces from 17 women artists (using paint, metals, fiber art, assemblage, photography and mixed media) examine our culture’s inherent sexism in a way that is thoughtful, emotional, enlightening, and entertaining.

It doesn’t go for an obvious gut punch or shock (though some may experience those things) with highly sexualized imagery or ponderous performance art.

“I’m hopeful that this show will break some preconceived ideas of women artists,” curator Kimberly Becker said.

“We have important messages to deliver, and I hope that the nuanced approach to the question, ‘What does it mean to be female in the 21st century?’ will open peoples’ minds to listen.”

A brassiere made from old wire eyeglasses is both a thing of beauty and a clever commentary on the male gaze.
Slogans like “nasty woman” and “you’re too bossy” — embroidered on denim in a style that evokes an anonymous hostage-taker’s cut-out words — pokes at gender issues with poignancy and a wry twinge of something like humor.

“I really wanted to do something that was not … off-putting,” Becker said. “I didn’t want to jar or shock people. I told the artists there was one rule only: You can’t use boobs, vaginas or curse words,” she laughed.

“We’ve all seen a lot of that, and it’s just not what I wanted to do.”

She credits the #MeToo movement with helping the profile of the show.

“The movement really helped our show be noticed. I believe people walked in with open minds and a willingness to hear what these artists were trying to say.”

Becker, a former resident of Bath, first presented the show in the Belmont Gallery of Art in Massachusetts, opening just days before the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March.

The artists were all local to the area, and Becker’s idea of taking it on the road involved opening the show to include local artists.

When the opportunity arose for the show to run at the Chocolate Church, where Becker was once a board member, it was a natural fit.

Becker, an alum of the Rhode Island School of Design, contributes pieces from her own “House Dress Project,” an exquisite collection of silk and cotton organza dresses that float like specters while also evoking wedding gowns, embellished with florets and pearlescent beads and embroidered with phrases lifted from each dress’s accompanying “story.”

The dresses are Becker’s thesis work for her MFA, which she is currently completing.

“I wanted to find a way to discuss how women are still, to this day, being marginalized in our misogynistic society,” Becker said.

“Her Escape Plan Included a Third Pregnancy” is the title of one dress. Becker gathered real stories from real women, the first being her own mother.

She paints the storyteller’s house on the front of the dress, and painstakingly embroiders lines from their narrative — which are printed in an accompanying booklet — on the back.

Becker invited Chocolate Church Gallery curator and artist Penny Lane to contribute a piece to the show, along with Palermo fiber artist Maya Critchfield.

Lane says she stepped outside her own comfort zone in hosting the show.

“I don’t think the gallery has done much of this kind of art, but I’m new to the job and not fully aware of its history,” she said.

“Political art has always interested me in a detached sort of way, but this show is so evocative and powerful, I felt I needed to stretch outside of my typical comfort zone by bringing it here to Bath … Every artist has her own take on this narrative and each piece is its own chapter in this story of female inequity.”

Lane contributed a self-portrait titled, “That’s not the way it happened.”

“It is actually a very pivotal piece for me as an artist,” Lane said. “It’s the first political artwork I’ve ever attempted, and it’s also my first foray into oil paints.”

Maya Critchfield’s work began with the history of fiber and cloth, and arcs to the underpaid labor forces (mostly women) that create clothing, much of it disposable, ruinous to the environment, and often created in dangerous working conditions.

She embroiders her poems onto “uniforms” of working women.

Events related to the exhibit include two films at the gallery; admission is free. The first is on Sunday at 2 p.m.: “Who Does She Think She Is?”, the story of a female painter in the 1920s who was checked into an asylum and never heard from again.

On May 5 at 2 p.m., the gallery will show “Packed in a Trunk,” a film about the struggles women endure to be full-time artists in today’s demanding society.

An artist panel discussion will be held on April 28 at 2 p.m.

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