In Ann Weiner’s creations, personal experiences become shared battles, stories are told in a way words cannot match and generations of women see a part of themselves in the fine details.
On Thursday, at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts’ Cohen Gallery showcased these creations with the opening of its month-long exhibition, Weiner’s “When Caged Birds Sing.” The installation focuses on telling eight women’s personal stories regarding gender-based violence and their triumphs despite adversity.
Weiner said she was inspired by the influence that Judy Chicago’s famous exhibition, “The Dinner Party,” had on the writings of feminist author Sue Monk Kidd. “That connection of one artist to the next, honoring women who may not have gotten into the spotlight … triggered me to want to do that for living women who suffered abuse because of their gender and went on to do significant work,” Weiner added.
The artwork itself is presented as eight individual sculptures, partitioned by walls bearing each woman’s name and her story. Every sculpture incorporates the image of a woman or the female figure, with materials such as weaponry, caging, wires and netting representing her suffering and metaphorical bondage. Each piece presents a certain grotesqueness that is telling of the urgency of the situations these women faced.
Honor violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and sex trafficking all play roles in Weiner’s exhibition. The installation also goes into concise detail about the experiences of famous women such as Laverne Cox, American actress and trans rights activist; Maria de Penha, Brazilian domestic violence survivor and advocate; Grace Akallo, a Ugandan escapee of the Lord’s Resistance Army; and Malala Yousafzai, an equal education champion from Pakistan. In her artwork, Weiner attentively adds attributes significant to each woman’s story — toy dolls for Cox, a wedding dress for de Penha, a rifle for Akallo and a red flag for Yousafzai.
“I tell the stories of these incredible women in the hope that their voices will be heard, their suffering will be seen and that more of the world will rise up to prevent the abuses they have endured, which are still inflicted on their mothers, sisters and daughters,” Weiner wrote on her website.
Weiner said she hopes “(her) work will be … seen by many of the millennia, that the young people will listen to these stories and be moved to do something significant to help women globally and will develop compassion and caring and action.”
This sentiment clearly resonated with the audience. One attendee at the opening, Nancy Moore Hulnick, commented that she felt the exhibit helped to “shape … and magnify (her own) voice.”
Weiner “picked survivors of abuse, and yet we are all, as women, resonating with this in our own way, big and small,” Moore Hulnick said.