" Feminism is still the F-word," says Cat Snapp, artist and co-founder of Bump It Mafia. "Many people have preconceived ideas of what feminism is and what it looks like."
The Bump It Mafia is out to challenge such preconceptions through the medium of printmaking in an exhibition at Studio Two Three, Richmond's only nonprofit printmaking workspace and gallery.
Inequality isn't anything new, even in the art world. All it takes is a quick jaunt through art history books to see that women artists haven't had equal recognition or community support. But things are changing. Named after the popular, retro hair pouf accessory, the Bump It Mafia makes its mission to build a strong and supportive female presence in the printmaking community. The exhibition includes the prints of 19 female artists, each with its own perspective on modern femininity.
The Mafia began as a print portfolio trade that traveled internationally. Founding artists Katy Seals, Linda Lucia Santana and Snapp collected several editions of prints from the portfolio and sent them on tour. They received such a positive response that the project evolved into an artists' group that discusses gender, sex and equality through the work it produces. The group also formed as a response to the lack of women who are seen orchestrating printmaking events.
"Printmaking can be a very physically demanding medium, and that can lead to gender discrimination," Linda Santana says. Considering the carving, lifting, inking, pressing — not to mention the cost of the presses and materials — communal print shops historically have been male-dominated.
Snapp adds that the countless instances when she faced discrimination as a female "definitely fuel my motivations for this project, [but] the Bump It Mafia for me is about putting something positive out into the world."
The prints themselves vary as much in content as they do in technique and application, from intaglio and relief prints (the transfer of images from either a carved or raised image, respectively) to mixed-media approaches involving ink and other materials, such as thread and text. The imagery springs from societal perspectives, reflective and introspective views. It's as wide-ranging as portraits of a high-haired and bejeweled Dolly Parton and Snooki, bearded women, illustrations of animals and fantasy scenes and purely abstract approaches that use only line, shape and color to communicate. What reigns supreme are positivity, independence and a sense of humor.
Printmaking by its nature is the perfect medium for the goals of the group. "I love working in multiples because my work can reach a broader audience; one piece can have many lives," Santana says. Once the image has been created in a matrix, each impression may differ from the next, depending on the variety of pigments and the kind of paper or material used — and it can have many lives in galleries, collections, friends' homes, or exhibitions such as the one at Studio Two Three.
That each print is different only strengthens the show, exemplifying how complex and layered modern feminism has become. The works raise questions regarding femininity as a cultural construct: What does "feminine" mean and what does it look like? Who determines such a definition? Do modern women embrace or reject these definitions? Is it OK if these definitions contradict each other? The last answer is a resounding yes, and the portfolio provides glimpses of this diversity of the female identity.
The Mafia also wants to encourage support for artists of all backgrounds. "Ironically, our biggest supporters are our male printmaking colleagues," Seals says.
Although she knew their conversation would connect with women, Snapp says, she didn't think about the support they'd get from men "who are excited to find role models for their daughters, or are also interested in discussing gender roles and expectations."
Historically, printmaking always has been art for the masses, and it's clearly moved beyond creating a static picture to being a living call to action: an effective and creative form of activism. The works made by women in a medium that has been dominated by men for centuries speak not by forcing their perspectives down viewers' throats, but by excelling in contemporary printmaking. The images inspire solidarity as much as they inspire creativity. S
The Bump It Mafia portfolio exhibition will be on display at Studio Two Three, 1617 W. Main St., through March 29. For more information call 254-7302 or visit studiotwothree.com.