I lead.

 

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Leader, by Jenny Schmid, created in support of my Disequilibrium project in 2013.

 

Last semester a student came to me for some advice. “What do I do?”, she said, “What do I do when I am confronted with casual sexism from my professors and classmates? I don’t want to be the person who is constantly educating others on how to treat me as a human person, a human person who happens to be in a lady shaped container, but a human none-the-less.” I was honored that she felt comfortable enough to come to me for this advice, and yet dismayed that this was her experience, one that I strongly identified with.

I told her to make her actions and life an answer. I told her to accept that she has deep power and she has choices as to how she uses that power. That while our institutions retain bias, conscious and unconscious, she as an individual can live as a person of agency and power. “Create boundaries, calmly and clearly communicate what behaviors and comments you find unacceptable. And create opportunity” I said. “curate shows, instigate projects, find the people and organizations you want to work with and then create opportunities for each other.”

Today I have the opportunity to fall back on my own advice. I’m in Portland OR for an academic conference. Southern Graphics Council International Conference (SGCI) is a professional ‘conference of record’ for Printmaking academics. It is an institution. It confers legitimacy to presenters and exhibitors. SGCI is a way to obtain peer standing in the field of printmaking and in fine arts.

I didn’t register. The conference is far too expensive for my budget as an independent artist who is living an adjunct lifestyle. Since starting grad school in 2009 there has been but one year when I made more than $24,000 in a year. But I’m here to exhibit work, see print exhibitions and visit with colleagues and my dear friends. I’m here to luxuriate in the community that I have built and am so often so far from.

SGCI creates a framework for us to share research, build community and to learn from each other. And every year I am grateful that we have the opportunity to meet in one place to exchange with each other.

This year, part of the exchange has been a general sense of dismay over the glaring lack of diversity in the programming of key-note speakers for the conference. As artists and academics we have the opportunity to direct our viewers’ attention to topics we find important. It is unacceptable for an organization that serves to advance the professional standing of printmakers to consciously or unconsciously exclude a plurality of voices from that advancement through lazy programming choices.

And then that guy said that thing.

During the panel discussion for James Rosenquist’s Lifetime Achievement Award Maurice Sanchez made a glaringly (to most everyone but him) sexist comment. He related an anecdotal Robert Motherwell quote that printmaking is a dance. Sanchez then expanded upon that sentiment to state (in summary) that as a collaborative printer he knows what it’s like to be a woman, to not lead but follow.

And with that one comment, I know that I will not be working with or paying much attention to Maurice Sanchez.

It is my attention, my viewership, readership, engagement, my community, my time and resources that you lose if you reveal yourself to be ignorant. If you are ignorant of the intense, day after day, effort to retain footholds and break new ground in social and cultural institutions, let alone personal relationships, to allow for a plurality of experience and identities, then you are not welcome to work with me and my community.

I am a leader, I know what it is like to be a person who walks away from outdated modes of legitimacy and from institutions and people who no longer serve the collective good. I am a leader, one who sees power in collaboration and plurality. I am a leader, someone who earns trust and shares knowledge.

If organizations, institutions, and individuals wish to retain a position of relevancy and viability in the minds and lives of their members, colleagues, and community then they can not ignore that long-term exclusion from the collective narrative and hierarchal power has created unequal access to power, cultural value and opportunity for anyone whose experience is anything but white male.

So, SGCI, use your framework of legitimacy to advance a plurality of experiences and voices that have been left behind or traditionally excluded. Change the collective narrative to reflect the identity of your viewers and constituents. In other words, SGCI, be a better leader.

 

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this, Amanda. I decided to skip the conference this year too, even though it was held in my city, and at two institutions that I worked/taught at for seven years. I have had issues with SGCI conferences in the past, so I am not entirely shocked by what happened. I hope that there is a little introspective on their part after this conference, and things improve.

    Reply

  2. Well said Jenny! This semester and the last one too, my entire wait listed screenprint classes at UT Austin has 100% female enrollment. My wife and I have one child, a daughter, graduating H. S. and entering UT Austin in the fall majoring in art history. As a print educator now completing forty years in a predominately female classroom, I have invested my entire career sharing what I know and love about the print disciplines primarily with women. I am intensely determined to see that they are finding more and more open doors of opportunity in the art world! Like you, it grieves me to find some of them still nailed shut.

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  3. After 44 years of SGCI history, Karin Broker being the first really to break into the “boy’s club back in the ’80s, the women in our organization have literally taken the ‘bull by the horns’, and have assumed a pivotal role of leadership and service to our organization. Think of Eun Lee, Bet Grabowski, Syd Cross and dozens of others through the years!
    Thank you ladies!!!

    Reply

  4. I registered and I chaired a panel with three other women about Japanese woodcut in the US. I thank SGCI for providing us this opportunity, they deserve our support for working hard to make the event a success and including so many. I enjoyed the conference immensely. Yet I have to say I quietly walked out of that keynote address, thinking it seemed mainly of historic interest and not relevant to my work today. I guess I was not the only one!

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  5. In response to your comment about Maurice…. A dear friend, mentor, LATINO male, collaborative printer, primarily a contract printer, who when he decides to, publishes ONLY female artists, I think he was referring to dancing traditionally as being a male lead/ female follow type of situation.
    Comparing the role of collaborative printer to dancing is common and I know that in no way was he trying to be sexist. It was a comparison to dancing, which maybe he could have compared it to another less gender roled activity. He was simply making a comparison to relate his profession and role in a collaboration with an artist of the caliber as Rosenquist. I admire his sensibilties as this type of printer and I aspire to reach to his degree of professionalism. But take to heart that he does support, admire, promote, give a much needed stage for women artists and their work. Much more than many publishers, printers, galleries, and the art world in general.
    My beef with anything to do with SGCI is that it is so academic and many times disconnected from the art world at large. The fact that Maurice, who has collaborated and printed with most artists who have ever worked in the medium of printmaking, was invited to come and talk is a good sign.
    I know all too well of the challenges of women in the field I am in. I’m a professional lithographer….I’ve had to work hard to get recognition.
    You’re absolutely right to speak about the challenges that still exist for women. Keep moving forward, create opportunities for other women like projects, shows, portfolios, etc…..that creates a statement of true success and power. This is all super advice for young female artists.
    I’m with you but I have to make a statement of support for my pal Maurice, who, trust me, is a champion of women.

    Reply

  6. And no, I didn’t get to attend this year’s conference, (also due to it being cost prohibitive to a independently financed artist/printer/etc. aside from teaching)
    So I did not get to hear this panel discussion to the fullest extent.
    I just feel the need to expound upon my own knowledge and relationship with my pal Maurice in response to this particular comment.

    Thanks!

    Reply

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