Binding feminism and art

Books, scrapbooks or diaries can often take on an unparalleled power, becoming physical means of personal expression, memories and creative growth. To this end, 10 local artists are using bound books to represent one year of work as a part of a MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art) initiative. The books, currently showing in the un.bound exhibition, are the result of the year-long Foundation Mentorship Program in which emerging female artists were paired with a professional mentors who oversaw their professional, creative and intellectual growth.

This year there were 10 emerging artists; Jacquelyn Hébert, Jeanette Johns, Nora Kobrinsky, Whitney Light, Eryn Thorey Mackenzie, Margerit Roger, Leslie Supnet, Becky-Lynne Thiessen, Niki Trosky and Melissa Wastasecoot, who were mentored by artists KC Adams, Bonnie Marin, Mary Reid, Dominique Rey and Lisa Wood. The group met once a month in a workshop setting for professional development, learning skills like how to write grant applications and show proposals.

One emerging artist involved, Jacquelyn Hébert, explained that at the beginning of the year they set a goal for what they wanted to accomplish. “Everybody just went at it a different way,” she said. “For example, I wanted to get a show at a gallery in St Boniface and so my goal was to make that happen. I applied for the show, I got it and I’m working on the piece.”

Another primary aspect of the program was critique, in which the artists presented their work to their peers and received their opinions and thoughts. Hébert found that this aspect of the program was, at first, difficult for some.

“A lot of people had never done an art critique of their work and I know that it was really challenging for some of the mentees because they were worried,” she recalled. “[They were] thinking ‘Oh my god, what am I going to say?’ But I think in the end, everyone found that to be the most rewarding.”

One workshop, held in June, on book-binding proved to be the inspiration for un.bound, the year-end exhibit. Hébert said, “How we conceived of the show is that everyone would make a book, or some kind of box or container, and all of the mentees would share. Each piece is actually a combination of everybody’s work, as well as that of the person making it.”

Jacquelyn Hébert made two books for the exhibit; one is a personal collection of photographs, the other is a collection dedicated to the other artists in the program. She has yet to see all of the pieces, but believes everyone is approaching it quite differently, which should result in “a really eclectic mix.” Moreover, she says, each participant in the program comes from a very different background.

“Some people have gone to school and some people haven’t gone to school, so it was an interesting way of seeing how different people approach their practice,” Hébert said.

All artwork on display in un.bound was created at different points during the developmental arc of the year. In addition to bound books, there is also a video documentary by Jacquelyn Hébert, Whitney Light and Leslie Supnet, in which the emerging artists discuss their work and experience in the mentorship program. Hébert said that they “interviewed all of the mentees in the program about their art practices, what their experience was in the program, and how it helped them in terms of their practice and how they think about themselves as professional artists.”

Ultimately, un.bound is a celebration of the artists’ year together. Each made something in order to house another person’s work, and this parallels the ultimate goal of the program. Indeed, MAWA has engendered a community of female artists working collaboratively though initiatives like the Foundation Mentorship Program. Hébert explained that “it is a feminist organization at the base level; I think the idea in the art world is that it is a lot harder for women to break in and this is a kind of way of doing it together.”

un.bound runs until Oct. 20 at MAWA, 611 Main Street.