21st Annual Solo Mujeres Show, "Women on War": These Artists Will Not Be Voting For McCain

Through March 29, 2007; Women on War: Solo Mujeres 21st Annual Juried Show; $5 admission; Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission Street @ 25th Street, San Francisco; hours Tues-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10am-10pm; 415-821-1155

Looking at political art doesn’t have to be the cultural equivalent of eating your vegetables. “Women on War” is a satisfyingly varied show featuring works of art that have great range in scale, tone, and craft. The prescient show organizers chose the theme for this year’s 21st annual “Solo Mujeres” (only women) show at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts long before the Republican candidate for President shared his vision for a 100 year sleepover in Iraq.

This year the Mission Cultural Center invited the Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art to participate in their annual "Solo Mujeres" show. Both these groups have a long history of activism. The MCCLA was established in 1977 in San Francisco’s Mission District in order to preserve and develop the Latino cultural arts. The art gallery is just one aspect of their programming which also includes contemporary and folkloric dance, music, printmaking, and youth programs. Themes for “Solo Mujeres” in recent years have been “Tactics & Strategy” and “Visionary Women.”

WCA was founded in 1972 in San Francisco during the 61st College Arts Association conference, to protest the lack of women in the ranks of that national professional organization for visuals arts teachers. The Northern California chapter, one of the oldest, was formed later that year. That was long before the masked performance art troupe “Guerilla Girls” were beating their chests in frustration over male domination of the art world.

Karen Tsujimoto, Senior Curator of Art at the Oakland Museum, juried the show and picked an array of work by 25 artists, culled down from over 200 submissions. Tsujimoto is a 25+ year veteran of the Bay Area art world, and an expert on California art. She has published books on Wayne Thiebaud, Joan Brown and Peter Voulkos, to name a few. She made her selections based on the artistic merit of each work in combination with the artist’s statement about how each piece relates to the theme of war.

Tsujimoto says she was impressed by the variety of war-related subject matter represented including WWII Japan, manifest destiny, women in the military, and the desaparecidos (the term for people kidnapped and murdered at the hands of various South American military dictatorships, never to be found by their loved ones). Each artist’s words are posted next to her piece to provide context and insight for the viewer.

Nuala Creed’s “Babes in Arms” ($1,600) are sweet ceramic babies outfitted with machine guns, helmets, and gas masks. Creed started this series after the irony of her participation in the 2002 White House Christmas Tree project struck her: three months after she took part in that innocent tradition we invaded Iraq. (The first babe in the series was sold to famous, droll, conceptual/message artist Jenny Holzer, whose most widely recognized work employs scrolling LED message signs as her canvas.)

Claudia Chapline of the eponymous Stinson Beach gallery (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year), did a wall installation of dozens of small crosses made of found materials ($150-$1,500). The dense aggregation of homespun devotional objects looks like those spontaneous shrines that show up at the site of tragic car accidents, gang killings, even the one for Diana that piled up outside Buckingham Palace in the immediate days after her death.

"Nightmare 1,2,3,4" ($600) by Eileen Zevallos, is called out by the show’s organizers as a seminal piece in this artist’s maturing career. This hauntingly beautiful mixed media piece has a dreamlike quality; collaged photographed figures wander ghost-like through a watercolor crimson fog.

Also going on at the Mission Cultural Center is a retrospective of the work of Yolanda Lopez, an American Chicana, painter, printmaker, and filmmaker. Lopez was a student at S.F. State in the early 60s and the morals of the civil rights movement affected her deeply. Her work varies from the strong stuff of United Farm Workers strike propaganda to a loving celebration of her own family’s blue collar matriarchy. The connection between this exhibition and "Women on War" is that Lopez is the 2008 recipient of the Women’s Caucus for Art lifetime achievement award.