Campus celebrates suffrage movement through women’s art

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A giant charm bracelet made of fabric hangs from the wall. It includes a hot dog in a baguette, a crepe pan and a cross among other things. To the left is a wall that has questions such as “How can we better support women?” and “Who is a female role model to you, and why?” Colorful bits of paper that people have written their answers on surround the questions. To the right there are several rooms filled with paintings, photographs and other forms of art created purely by women.

This is “A Studio of Her Own,” one of the current exhibitions in the BYU Museum of Art that will be up until Sept. 12, 2020. It was created to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States. According to the gallery’s curator, Janalee Emmer, the museum has never had a gallery quite like this one before.

“I wanted to get people interested and excited about these women artists who I think have made really wonderful and important contributions,” Emmer said.

She said one of the real showstoppers is an installation piece by Rebecca Campbell titled, “Two year supply: Clean.” The piece consists of several shelves stocked with Mason jars that are filled with different dilutions of Windex and moving images that are projected onto the jars. Emmer said Campbell created the piece to honor her mother, who would clean whenever she felt the need to re-center herself.

While artists can have many different reasons for what they do, a lot of artists use their art to promote social change, according to Emmer. On campus there are a variety of examples of different kinds of artists who are trying to start conversations about womanhood.

Juniper Taylor, a BYU junior and pre-acting major from Lehi, recently performed in a play called “Suffrage” that was part of the Theatre and Media Arts Department’s “Contemporary Voices” event. The play tells the story of two polygamist women in the 1890s, when Utah was fighting for statehood. Juniper’s character, Ruth, was a suffragette.

The territory of Utah granted women the right to vote 50 years before Congress passed the 19th Amendment, and the first woman to ever vote in the United States was from Utah, but the Edmunds-Tucker Act of of 1887 took away that right. When it came time for Utah to become a state, the question of whether or not to give women the vote was an important topic, and the play examines this time period from the perspective of polygamists.

Juniper said while the play is about women who fought for their rights a long time ago, she believes it can be part of the conversation about feminism today.

“(Women) can work, and they can have lives and provide in that way as well as do things at home, just like men have been doing for years,” she said.

Juniper said one of the reasons she wants to act is because she believes art can change people’s minds about issues like feminism. She also said she is impressed with the TMA department strives to include women, like with the 50/50 casting rule that requires all productions to have an equal number of women and men.

Madelyn Taylor, a senior majoring in English, said she believes BYU is doing a good job of trying to make sure everyone’s voices are heard but that there is always room for improvement.

Madelyn helps run the “Saturday Night Slam Series,” a slam poetry event that takes place once a month at The Wall. She said she wants the slams to help women — and men — express themselves through art.

“It’s all about people’s individual experiences and individual journeys. If the slams are a space for those kinds of storytelling, then it is because of the people who are willing to tell their stories there,” Madelyn said. “It’s mostly about making sure there is a place where it’s not only allowed, but it is encouraged to start conversations that are difficult to start.”

Emmer said that telling women’s stories is a big part of the “A Studio of Her Own” exhibition as well, which is why she made a point of including art forms that have typically been associated with women. The gallery contains needlepoint pieces, quilts, blankets and other things that have typically been seen as crafts rather than art. She also said some of the labels that go with the artwork are longer than normal because she wanted to have space to share parts of the women’s biographies.

“I think it really is in celebrating women, showing their work and having exhibitions like these that hopefully, we can inspire people to take more interest in women as artists,” Emmer said.

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