Our Selves brings images that span more than one hundred years of photography into dialogue with each other. All of them were made by women artists who have responded to asymmetrical systems of power and have reframed gender and subjectivity in the process. Modernist artists in the first half of the twentieth century interrogated the politics of the gaze and explored new forms of address in portraiture, documentary images, and advertising; contemporary artists have highlighted the intersections of women’s rights, diasporic histories, and Indigenous sovereignty through oblique fabulation, queer language, and performative actions.
The exhibition, which reflects the generosity of the collector Helen Kornblum, is not a chronological history of women photographers, nor is it a historical account of feminist photography. Rather, Our Selves presents specific constellations of works and ideas that are guided by obscured and omitted legacies. It is an invitation to look at pictures through a contemporary feminist lens; it declares the capacity of women to assert their political motivations; it proposes unexpected connections that mount a challenge to convention. By showing these works together, Our Selves affirms the powerful words of artist Carrie Mae Weems: “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition. I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”
The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 10, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined. Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum is organized by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.
Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial/Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography. Highlighting both iconic and rare or lesser-known images, the exhibition’s groupings and juxtapositions of modern and contemporary works will encourage unexpected connections in the Museum’s fifth-floor collection galleries, which are typically devoted to art from the 1880s through the 1940s.
Our Selves will open with a wall of self-portraits and portraits of female artists by such modernist photographers as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Gertrud Arndt, Lotte Jacobi, and Lucia Moholy, alongside contemporary practitioners including Tatiana Parcero, Rosemarie Trockel, and Lorie Novak. Inviting viewers to consider the structural relationship between knowledge and power, Frances Benjamin Johnston’s Penmanship Class (1899)—a depiction of racially segregated education at the turn of the 20th century in the United States—will hang near Candida Höfer’s Deutsche Bucherei Leipzig IX (1997)—a part of Höfer’s series documenting library interiors weighted by forms of social inequality and colonial supremacy. Lorna Simpson’s Details (1996), a portfolio of 21 found photographs, signals how both the camera and language can culturally inscribe the body and reinforce racial and gender stereotypes.
Works by Native artists including Cara Romero and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, and non-Native practitioners such as Sharon Lockhart and Graciela Iturbide, explore indigeneity and its relationship to colonial history. Photographs by Flor Garduño, Ana Mendieta, Marta María Pérez Bravo, and Mariana Yampolsky attest to the overlapping histories of colonialism, ethnographic practice, and patriarchy in Latin America.
Our Selves is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that features more than 100 color and black-and-white photographs. A critical essay by curator Roxana Marcoci asks the question, “What is a Feminist Picture?” and a series of 12 focused essays by Dana Ostrander, Caitlin Ryan, and Phil Taylor address a range of themes, from dance to ecology to perception. The catalogue offers both historical context and critical interpretation, exploring the myriad ways in which different photographic practices can be viewed when looking through a feminist lens.
Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum will be on view to October 10, 2022 at The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, NYC.