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Exhibition uses surrealism to convey themes of femininity, identity

Artist Ellen Wetmore unveils exhibition, ‘Grotesques,’ at Sarah Doyle Women’s Center

Abject horror, dissociation and a general state of anxiety — these are some of the emotions elicited in “Grotesques,” an exhibition by Ellen Wetmore that opened in the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center Oct. 6 and will be on display until the end of October.

Wetmore, an artist and associate professor of art at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, seeks to communicate themes of femininity, family and identity through the “surreal image metaphors” in her work, she wrote in her exhibit statement.

“Grotesques” features high-definition videos portraying “feminist entanglements of death and regeneration,” Wetmore told The Herald. She said she chose to work in this medium because “people accept what happened in front of the camera as real,” adding that, “It’s fun to suggest some illusions, like a person who has walked out of the ocean dry or someone going out to lunch with their husband’s head.”

Wetmore described surrealism as an important aspect of her work.

“Surrealism means taking the dreams out of your head and out of your unreliable subconscious,” Wetmore said. She concerns herself with “how we take those images of ourselves and bring them to surface so other people can see it,” she added.

Feminist spaces such as the SDWC are a unique avenue for this connection because they offer a “place where women can be women and talk freely about things they might have to edit out in other circles,” she said. Her work centers around conversations of body image and distortion.

“What you see in your mind is very different from what everybody else sees,” Wetmore said. “Where we create ourselves as people, how we become a member of a certain ethnic group, all of that happens in your mind.”

As someone who has “ideas knocking around” in her head most of the time, Wetmore said she uses her art as a way to catalogue her thoughts and the environment she creates in her own life. Reflecting this tendency, “Grotesques” features images from her home life, including footage of her sons and husband.

Adele Ruppert ’16, SDWC gallery coordinator, said the intersection of personal and professional spheres struck her.

“It was interesting to see these autonomous people in her work and then realize during the installation that they’re her family,” she said, adding that it “brings up ideas about domesticity.”

Wetmore said as an artist and mother she emphasizes the difficulty of reconciling feminism with motherhood and the sacrifices women make.

“If you’re going to allow (your children’s) egos to grow and to develop into their own egos, you have to repress your ego.”


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