I AM I

GUEST POST BY JESSICA RAE ECKER

I AM I, a group show consisting of female artists with Mormon ties, poses the question, How is your Female Gender Identity defined? Using the portrait to facilitate a participation in this conversation, I AM I provides a range of perceptions that are widely relatable beyond the constraints of the participants.

Gender Identity is not only a relevant contemporary topic, but also an essential conversation as we move forward dissecting currently established societal binary roles. Gender Identity has long been a standing subject in feminist art of the Modern Era, questioning designated female gender roles, cisgender identification, suggestive media marketing, patriarchal hierarchy, LGBTQA+ rights, etc. With the recent mainstream recognition of Transgender rights having brought about a further questioning of binary female and male identities, we see a continual morphing of gender roles and their identifications.

Titled I AM I, the purpose of this show is to delve into the many personal and individual complexities within a female identity that has, at one time or another, been influenced by Mormon doctrine.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints released The Family: A Proclamation to the World in 1994, and it states:

All human beings – male and female – are created in the image of God… each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose… By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.

As laid out in the statements above, conservative viewpoints of gender binaries are predominant in Mormon theology. From this springs various female feminist and non-feminist ideological movements within the LDS Church. Some movements highlight the role of the female as a part of a forever lasting patriarchal society, others praise the Divine Feminine, while others question the binary roles separating male and female, desiring a more unified, androgynous center.

The participating artists in I AM I, either still practicing Mormonism, or removed from it, have their own individual identifications. While each artist began their life with similar traditional teachings of gender roles – relating to motherhood, modesty, sexuality, divinity, etc. – their gender identities have become their own, either in support of what they were taught or redefined.

Meagan Porter is a designer living and working full time in London, UK. She is married and she and her partner, Jared, have one son. She studied graphic design at Brigham Young University, and now works primarily designing digital product experiences.

Drawing on inspiration from Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits, Meg assumes an entirely new role that comprises her gender identity in each photograph. “The pieces aim to show different roles which make up the way that I imagine my own gender identity. These ‘selves’ all inhabit my feminine identity: overlapping, meshing, and sometimes conflicting each other.” Sexuality – “I’m still discovering this part of myself. However, I feel it is crucial to expose this extremely important and private part of my gender identity.” Working Mother – “I feel the tug and pull as mother and professional roles compete for my time, energy and attention – each pushing me to excel in both areas equally.“ Heavenly Mother – “represents my divine destiny to become deified – an eternal goddess. I have hope that a Heavenly Mother exists and loves me, and I believe She is the epitome of glorified spiritual, physical and intellectual feminine identity.”

Amy Nicole Peterson was born May of 1983 in Mission Hills California. She received her BFA from Brigham Young University in 2007. She is currently painting and selling portraits from her small home studio. She lives and works in Salt lake City with her husband and 2 children.

Feeling an underlying undeniable draw from the colors and symbols that connect her with her Hispanic heritage, Amy incorporates these symbols into her work. “A major symbol of my identity is the flower. I truly love flowers and incorporate them in so many aspects of my life. They represent the feminine side of me that I identify with. While they can be gender specific, I don’t want to shy away from such things that are part of me. I am a strong capable woman who also loves pink flowers.”

Jessica Rae Ecker is a practicing artist currently living in Mesa, Arizona. She received her BA in Visual Arts from Brigham Young University and her MFA in Painting and Drawing from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She was raised and participated in Mormonism, but in the last few years has left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, predominantly due to patriarchal gender binaries that continue to define the religious institution. From the time she has left the church, she constantly contemplates gender identity and wishes to continue and participate in the current dialogue.

“Throughout my life, I have found that I have allowed my gender identity to be influenced by other people, usually those whom I think of, or have thought of, as authority figures. This identification is focused on my body, whether it is modest enough, skinny enough, strong enough, tight enough, sexy enough, small enough, big enough, etc. With these images, I highlight my physical gender identification judgement, as others gage my female worthiness, and I in turn gage my own. Shot in the bathroom, while looking at a wall-to-wall mirror, there is an intensity with the images as I constantly feel the frustration and tension of defining and redefining if I am Enough.”

Carly Ostler is a local Marriage and Family Therapist and artist. She is interested in conversations about feminism, vulnerability, accountability and both individual and societal growth. Whether it’s a life, a feeling, a space or photo, Carly pours herself into the things she cares about.

“Patriarchal forces are a constant part of life. Sometimes they are barely noticeable, other times annoying and even other times excruciatingly painful. I have found the most healing from sharing feelings and empathizing with others. Although I am incredibly privileged to have a platform from which to be heard, I hope that sharing my experience will be relatable and create space for others to share themselves.”

Amber Wright, born in 1981 in Utah, is a Physician Assistant practicing cardiology and lives in New York, NY with her wife, Katrin. Amber holds a BA in Physiology and Developmental Biology from Brigham Young University, UT, and a MS in Physician Assistant Studies from Pace University, NY. She has lived in Japan, Ghana and Taiwan.

“Being raised Mormon, I was indoctrinated with the confining roles of gender binary. Male and female. These teachings were suffocating. I rejected the typical Mormon definition of female; consequently, I rejected many of my own female elements. As I battle through cancer, I have been stripped of western society’s outward classifications of female. Loss of breasts. Loss of hair. Loss of societal classifications of beauty and desirability. Why do I mourn these things that I spent many years of my life rejecting? How does it affect my subconscious gender perceptions? No definition will encapsulate my gender. Nor do I want to reject any aspect of my gender anymore. Through a photographic journey of healing, reconciliation and empowerment is progressing. I am an androgynous woman.”

Rachel Cardenas Stallings is an Oakland-based artist primarily working in painting, textile, video, and performance. Many points of interest converge in her work, including Mormon Feminism, figurative abstraction in Latin American modernism, and humor. Originally from Utah, she earned her BFA in Studio Art from Brigham Young University in 2013 and is currently an MFA candidate in Art Practice at UC Berkeley.

“In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler said that gender is a performance. I learned how to perform my gender by a series of repeated instructions. I have been concerned with the space that lies between binaries in my work. I look inside body/mind, Latinx/white, heaven/hell and male/female. I am continually instructed to refrain from participating in the same level of authority as men. My work is an attempt expose and break this societal command and myth, align myself with the Feminists before me and contribute my own Latinx and Mormon Feminist perspective. This series of bodysuits are used as protection against patriarchy. They are a way for me to take the role as spirit medium/matriarch/priestess. I am giving myself the authority. I am the matriarch. In the bodysuit, I make contact with spirits of my ancestors and imagine and extend blessings and fortunes. I will work with the stories told by aunts and grandmother of hauntings and Santeria.”

PRESENTED BY MESTIZO INSTITUTE OF CULTURE & ARTS
631 WEST NORTH TEMPLE, SALT LAKE CITY, UT 84116

ON VIEW MAY 14-JULY 7TH, 2017 OPENING RECEPTION MAY 19TH 6-9 PM

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1 Response

  1. Rachel says:

    Dear Jessica, I am so moved by this write up, as well as the beautiful, challenging images. Thank you. And to the other artists, as well.

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