“Pink” is an art display 20 years in the making for artist Libby Rowe.
She arrived in the South to a chorus of “sirs” instead of “ma’ams” and thusly began to evaluate the definition of feminine. Her experiments led to an interactive exhibit of art into which the viewer can insert themselves, turning the idea of gender into a level playing field for spectators everywhere. Now, Rowe’s exhibit “Pink” has arrived in Oxford along with its creator for the Sarah Isom Center’s weeklong festival, Sarahfest.
“What was required to be female? How are young girls trained into femininity? These are the sorts of questions that I tried to explore in ‘Pink,’” Rowe said.
Rowe grew up with one British grandmother and one Iowan grandmother, making for two very different womanly influences. “But they both converged on the idea of not slouching, sitting up straight, holding in your stomach,” Rowe said. “Girls are harped on for this — the way to present yourself as a lady. It’s these kinds of training rituals that we have for young girls that inspired so much of ‘Pink.’”
One particular feature of Rowe’s exhibit, named “Learning Feminine: Posture,” focuses on those grandmotherly influences by having pink pumps available and lined up for people to put on and walk, tea cups in hand, along provided tape toward a pile of already-smashed tea cups. Rowe recalled with delight the memory of Luke Sides, the sculpture professor at a community college in Dallas, circling and circling the exhibit until he couldn’t stand it anymore and had to take off his boots and try on the shoes to see if he could “walk the walk.”
“Everyone wants to walk the walk. People can put on the art and become the artwork themselves,” explained Rowe.
“I have known Libby for about a decade and have always been interested in bringing her work to campus,” said Brooke White, assistant chair and associate professor of art at Ole Miss. “I thought that this would be a great time since it coincided with Sarahfest. Last spring I wrote a proposal and received funding from the Lecture Series which enabled us to bring the show and Libby to campus. Through the generous support of the Lecture Series, the Department of Art and Art History, the Imaging Arts Program and the Sarah Isom Center we are able to have ‘Pink‘ on display.”
White has been involved with the Isom Center since 2005, when she began working at Ole Miss. “Most recently I have worked with the Isom Center to curate an annual student gender art exhibition that coincides with the Isom Center’s annual student conference on gender,” White said. “The Libby Rowe exhibition is result of Theresa Starkey asking me to be involved in programming for Sarahfest last year. I was excited to partner with the Isom Center again and to curate an exhibition of Libby’s work.”
Rowe’s exhibition works to emphasize the psychological and sociological elements of femininity in collaboration with Sarahfest.
“It’s not just a set of paintings. I worked to capture the navigation of relationships and definitions here too,” Rowe said. “I look like a little boy in some of my childhood pictures. I was all sorts of a tomboy growing up. And now, as a full-grown woman, I am still having the same struggle to have society understand who I am. I am certainly feminine, I am certainly a woman, but I’m tall and I have a deep voice and I’m assertive. And I own all these things. What does society do with that?”
“The work is so varied and engaging that I think everyone will be able to connect with some component of the work,” White said. “The show includes sculpture, photography, video and performance, which all make the exhibition extremely diverse. Her work is engaging and important, I’m very proud that her show is here, and I think the response from the community has been fantastic. I know that students and faculty are excited about this and anticipation is building.”
Libby Rowe will be on campus from Wednesday to Friday. Wednesday, Rowe will give a lecture as a part of the Virtual Visiting Arts Program at 5 p.m. in Meek Hall, room 120. At 4 p.m. Thursday, Rowe will do a performance, followed by her reception. Both events are free and open to the public.
“My art continues to grow and develop,” Rowe said. “I want to make people examine their belief systems and make them question what they assume and why. Never be confined by fake boundaries, especially in art. Use the tools you have to make the art you want to make.”