Eclectic Gathering

Raices Taller's annual 'Mujeres' show succeeds at reflecting on women's lives

A smiling young woman, swathed in a frilly apron, holds aloft a can of Sani-Flush.

"I never knew it was so easy," she gushes, gesturing to a sparkling toilet she has just cleaned.

Another woman, equally cheerful, recounts how much her marriage has improved since she switched to Domestic cleanser.

"He loves me, he loves me a lot," she says, pulling petals off a daisy, "since I got Domestic-ated."

Don Draper couldn't have said it better himself.

These old-timey illustrated advertisements are clipped from newspapers from the 1950s and 1960s. But if the real-life advertisers—and Mad Men's imaginary Draper—didn't use such sayings ironically, artist Pauline H. Pedregon does.

In her installation "I Am Woman," a highlight of the Mujeres, Mujeres, Mujeres (Women, Women, Women) show at Raices Taller, Pedregon resurrects the clips to skewer the old idea that a woman's worth depended on her domestic skills.

The offensive little ads are part of an elaborate work that serves as an altarpiece to the unsung women who did (and do) household tasks again and again.

An ironing board set up in the gallery is the counterpart of a church altar. An ancient iron sits on top, while an overloaded hamper stands nearby. A red garment spills out of the hamper, begging for the hot iron to smooth its wrinkles.

Above, a tangle of wooden hangers awaits an endless number of ironed shirts. They rise upward, glinting in the light like a painting of the apotheosis of the Virgin. But these hangers are hardly about assumption into heaven: They dangle from the ceiling by a slave's chains, and their uncountable number bears witness to the numbing repetition of the job at hand.

At least the imaginary housewife who might have toiled away in this domestic prison could unleash her creativity in sewing. Nearby, she has an old-fashioned dressmaker's mannequin—Our Lady of the Laundry, perhaps. Pedregon has painted a cheerful polka-dotted fabric on the front and covered the back in dress patterns.

But even when a '50s housewife found joy in caring for her home and family, or had fun making her own clothes, she dealt with a prevailing ethos that belittled both her labor and her intelligence. (One of the real contributions of Mad Men is its reminder of just how bad—and how recent—the bad "old" days of overt sexism were.) Those demeaning newspaper ads about Domestic-ation are glued all over the woman's treasured dress pattern, obscuring and undermining the things she enjoyed.

Pedregon stands up for our mothers and grandmothers, though, talking back to the Don Drapers who plagued them. Channeling the voice of Audre Lorde, she's hand-inked statements by the poet all over the ads:

"I am deliberate and afraid of nothing," Lorde declares. And: "Revolution is not a one-time event."

Amen to that. Progress has to be made again and again—it's repetitive, just like all those domestic chores that circle round and round. And, really, with all the campaign talk dissing contraception and women's choices, doesn't it feel like Draper's ideas are coming around again, too?

Pedregon can be counted on to create provocative and wild pieces about women. Her last installation at Raices was a stunning beer-bottle-cap construction about the drunken crash that killed Jackson Pollock and also took the life of a young woman named Edith Metzger.

Likewise, Raices Taller's annual Mujeres show—this is the eighth—reliably scores points about women's lives. The artists always jump in with an array of adventurous media, which this year range from Pedregon's newspaper ads to thread to markers to tile.

A number of the artists delight in reworking women's traditional crafts. Continuing with Pedregon's fabric theme, Kelsey Wiskirchen has made three "Stitched Portraits." Each is nicely drawn (if that's the right word for an image in which the lines are made by thread), laced through background netting. One deft picture is a complicated rendering of figures in a landscape: two women in long skirts leaning over a cooking pot outdoors.

Elise Deringer's fabric works are more abstract. In her "Inaccessible Pocket," three framed pieces of patchwork silk have been hand-stitched, with erratic seams snaking hither and yon across the cloth. Tiny stones have been sewn between layers of the cloth. And like Pedregon, Deringer mixes in text. Adjoining a silk pocket colored in navy and sky blue is a line of her own poetry: "Staring at the sky / the constellations shift / becoming new."

Tracy Brown rewrites art history in the comic "Les Hommes d'Avignon," a laugh-out-loud spoof on Picasso's influential "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." In this digital drawing, Brown converts Pablo's demoiselles to gentlemen, and gives the guys hot-pink underpants to boot.

The Mujeres exhibition, this year showing some 86 works, is always an eclectic gathering of greater and lesser quality, with beginners proudly hanging their work next to art by accomplished artists.

Among the big Tucson names are painter Cristina Cardenas, who's made three luminous landscapes of magical realism, and sculptor Barbara Jo McLaughlin, whose "Slash and Burn," in carbonized wood, pine and steel, invokes traditional agriculture in Maya lands.

Ann Simmons-Myers, head of photography at Pima Community College, contributed a richly colored archival pigment print. It pictures artist George Welch in his studio, holding a shadowbox memorial to his late mother, his first art teacher. The shallow diorama, adorned with pink lace and flowers, is a picture within a picture: Its rectangle echoes the frame of the larger photo, and its beautiful colors and composition are repeated in Simmons-Myers' work.

One interesting new artist, Billie C. Betters, is an older woman whose work has never before been shown in a gallery, according to Ceci Garcia of Raices. An African-Mexican-American from Nogales, Ariz., she exhibits two colored-marker pieces of remarkable energy.

"Mis Viejitas" represents an elderly couple in a public park rendered in hot pinks and emerald greens, drawn in a flattened perspective. An untitled glitter-and-marker drawing brings to life a female Yaqui deer dancer dancing against a wild, abstracted background of patterns and colors.

While Betters celebrates local communities, C.J. Shane has made an artist's book, "The Migrants," about the region's great tragedy. Folded into accordion pleats, the six-page book is a lament for the deaths of border-crossers, male and female alike. (Deaths in fiscal 2012 were up to 94 as of the end of April, per Derechos Humanos, making for a total of 2,381 bodies found since 2000.)

Shane has painted an abstracted desert landscape on the back page, but the bulk of the book is a poetic narrative Shane credits to a crosser named Francisco Garcia-Torres, age 14.

"We go north to find jobs," he says. "Death follows us with every step."

An abbreviated list of the known deaths in the desert follows, including those of three young women: 19-year-old Elizabeth Sanchez-Morocho, 22-year-old Tania Graciela Cedillo Marquez, and 27-year-old Evelyn Lorena Leon-Vivanco.

In an inadvertent counterpart to this tragic coda, Jamie Williams' trio of black-and-white cowgirl photos trace a woman's lifespan as it was meant to be. "In Her Father's Shadow" has a tiny future cowgirl playing in the dust of the corral. "Remember the Ride" is a close-up of a very old woman who gazes pensively over the rodeo fence.

The joyous "Round 'Em Up" celebrates a young cowgirl on the cusp of adulthood, just a little younger than the young migrant women memorialized in Shane's book. Williams' bold young equestrian has an entirely different future ahead of her. She bounds along on a galloping horse, her hair flying, coming into her power.

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