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Ryerson art exhibit She Unfolds gives voice to women

‘A woman’s voice is not only important … it completes the puzzle’
By: Lindsey Craig
March 10, 2020
The cover of Homer’s Iliad

The image above shows a wounded Amazon, a mythical race of warrior women portrayed in Greek art and literature, which male heroes battled to prove their might. It’s part of the work by Ryerson photography graduate Alessandra Abballe in the exhibit, She Unfolds.

When examining the history of photography it’s hard to see the full picture. That’s because a crucial element has been left out: women’s voices.

An art exhibit at Ryerson Artspace, external link aims to change that by highlighting the narratives of women that have been omitted over the years.

“There are many examples throughout history where female artists haven’t been recognized,” said Yu Xin Shi, communications coordinator at Ryerson Artspace, president of the Image Arts Course Union and student in Ryerson’s image arts (film studies) program.

“In photographic history, women were often seen as an extension of the male photographer, as a muse and nothing more,” she said.

The exhibit, She Unfolds, which runs from March 11 to April 9, with the opening reception from 6-8 p.m. on March 12, aims to illustrate the importance of equal representation behind the lens – so that women’s stories are not only captured, but captured by women.

“By giving women the chance to voice their experiences through photography, you are allowing for more stories to unfold,” said Shi.

“If you only allow one group of individuals to photograph, collect, or dissect photography, you are ignoring the greater picture. It’s like piecing together a puzzle, but willingly leaving out half of the pieces… A woman’s voice in photography is not only important, but essential to our cultural understanding. It's their voice that completes the puzzle.”

Exhibit features Ryerson grad, professor

The exhibit features the work of Ryerson photography graduate Alessandra Abballe and faculty member Sara Knelman.

Abballe’s project, She is All But Absent From History, is a collection of photographs that question the exclusion of women in adventure narratives.

“Having the voices and stories of women represented … allows for other women to see themselves in narratives, to see the potential and possibilities that exist beyond what the patriarchy tries to dictate. It also lends to a richer, more diverse understanding of history,” Abballe said.

Knelman’s found photography collection, Lady Readers, explores the woman as a reader through photographs spanning decades.

She says that throughout much of history, roles of photographers, historians, curators and photography enthusiasts have been dominated by men.

Moving forward, Knelman says, “We can recognize the structural biases historically and make conscious choices to avoid reinforcing them in our present. This is happening already in the actions of curators, publishers, gallerists and of course artists, who insist of telling women's stories, and on providing platforms for their expression.” 

The exhibition will also feature two reading group events led by EMILIA-AMALIA, external link and the CASSANDRA Press, external link. There will also be a reading nook within the gallery featuring works by Ryerson students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Below, view three pieces of work by Abballe, on display at Ryerson Artspace as part of the She Unfolds exhibit.

The cover of Homer’s Iliad

In the image above, the top photo shows a wounded Amazon, a mythical race of warrior women portrayed in Greek art and literature, which male heroes battled to prove their might.

Above, Abballe has juxtaposed the two images to recognize the Amazons, a mythical race of warrior women portrayed in Greek art and literature.

She explains that the Amazons were often depicted battling heroes such as Achilles, Heracles and Theseus who had to prove their heroism by battling these women.

“In the context of this dynamic, these male figures are revered and given heroic attributes while the Amazons are portrayed as something to conquer. In this image, The Iliad, being a well-known Greek text featuring the warrior Achilles, is paired with an image taken from The Met of a marble statue of a wounded Amazon,” Abballe said.

Two black and white photographs of a man and a woman superimposed on each other

Above right, Ruth Mallory, whose husband, George, was one of the first three mountaineers to attempt to climb Mount Everest. When he disappeared, his story lived on through Ruth.

This image is composed of two portraits, explained Abballe. One is of George Mallory, a British mountaineer who was part of the first three expeditions to Mount Everest. The second portrait is of his wife, Ruth Mallory.

In the mid-1920s, George Mallory and his expedition partner disappeared while attempting to summit Mount Everest, leaving his story and legacy with Ruth.

“In learning about and researching the history of the Mallorys, I became interested in what agency looks like, the different ways it takes shape in narratives, and how we, the onlooker, perceive heroism,” Abballe said.

An open book sitting on the corner of a photograph of a woman

Virginia Woolf is featured in the photo above along with an excerpt of one of her essays. Abballe says Woolf inspired the basis of her art project.

The image above is a reference and homage to writer Virginia Woolf and her essay A Room of One's Own. The image itself is of a printed portrait of Woolf taken by photographer George Charles Beresford.

“I’ve paired it with a flagged excerpt of her essay in my studio,” said Abballe, explaining that in A Room of One's Own, Woolf explores the relationship between women and fiction, questioning the structure of the genre and exploring notions of gender, space and representation.

“Woolf and her writing, specifically this essay, inform the basis of this project and my thinking on how women have, and continue to, create their own heroic space in adventure narratives,” said Abballe.

For more on the She Unfolds exhibit, please visit Ryerson Artspace, external link.

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