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Exhibition: Masked/Unmasked

Women Creating Their Own Gender Images

One of Adriene Hughes' photos from Masked/Unmasked at Green Scene Gallery.

Credit: Adriene Hughes

Above: One of Adriene Hughes' photos from Masked/Unmasked at Green Scene Gallery.

On October 8 at the Green Scene Gallery (3956 30th Street) So Say We All presents Masked/Unmasked, a visual art and live literature performance exploring the perception and self-presentation of women. The show features photography by Adriene Hughes and Rebecca Webb and performances by So Say We All’s cadre of female writers and performers. Opening reception is Saturday night with the exhibit running through October 31.

SSWA is a non-profit narrative arts production and education organization that specializes in literary and storytelling arts. Their Masked/Unmasked exhibition showcases two projects by San Diego-based women photographers. Rebecca Webb’s Gentlemen’s Paintings looks to mid-life female identity, taking her cue or perhaps the more accurate description would be riffing on a series of 18th century portraits of women by Spain's Goya. Adriene Hughes’ Deer/Woman serves up a fantastical visual tale through animal masks to consider what it means to be human. So at a time when I've been talking about gender images in the media, it's nice to focus on some images created by women and about women.

For this two woman show, Webb was approached by Justin Hudnall, executive director of SSWA to curate a collection of her work along with another artist to provide a conceptual springboard for SSWA storytellers. So Webb invited her friend and fellow photographer Adriene Hughes to join her for the exhibition. Hughes is a multi-media artist and director of the media labs at UCSD.

Webb is excited about this first public showing of her striking portrait work and is thrilled to be sharing space with Adriene Hughes because " her work is very different from mine but explores similar conceptual themes regarding mid-life female identity. Plus both Adriene's and my work will be aesthetically exciting! Both projects are colorfully vibrant. Adriene's images are printed on lustrous metallic paper, and mine are printed on film at 20x30 then adhered to airplane grade aluminum -- so the end result will have a sculptural feel. I can afford this process thanks to my Kickstarter fans!"

Webb has been running a Kickstarter fundraiser to help finance her project, which she describes as "a comment on societal attitudes about female middle-aged 'appropriateness' according to contemporary societal standards. Women, in their 40s and 50s, face the complicated transition between youth and old age and many struggle to define their public persona and image."

Photo caption: One of Goya's Gentlemen's Paintings and one of Rebecca Webb's photos from the...

Photo credit: Rebecca Webb

One of Goya's Gentlemen's Paintings and one of Rebecca Webb's photos from the exhibit.

On her website, Webb explains, "In the 18th century, Francisco Goya painted a series of provocative portraits of society women called 'Gentlemen’s Paintings.' This title serves as the inspiration for my project. Goya’s ‘Gentlemen’s’ portraits depicted women in suggestive poses, and were presumably created for male patrons. Goya also painted a portrait series of aristocratic women in bucolic settings who faithfully embraced their current mores — at least by their outward appearance. My project is a contemporary take on Goya’s work, where I depict women who are able to take many more liberties both in a public and private arena."

Photo caption: Two of the Gentlemen's Paintings by Rebecca Webb that are on display as part ...

Photo credit: Rebecca Webb

Two of the Gentlemen's Paintings by Rebecca Webb that are on display as part of Masked/Unmasked.

Webb's goal was to create 20 portraits. She just wrapped up shooting and is now focusing on producing the book, which will include the portraits as well as on-location shots of the whole process. She has lined up a New York Times writer to pen an essay for her book and is looking for additional writers to contribute as well as researching the right publisher. The book will include comments from her subjects about their feelings regarding what it means to be a woman in mid-life living in Southern California.

Photo caption: Beth Accomando posing with Big G for Rebecca Webb's Gentlemen's Paintings ser...

Photo credit: Cathy Alberich

Beth Accomando posing with Big G for Rebecca Webb's Gentlemen's Paintings series.

I was fortunate enough to be one of her subjects and the process of shooting the portrait was great fun. Webb encouraged me to bring props that defined who I am and was good at making me feel comfortable in front of the camera. When she told me the location was Batiquitos Lagoon I felt it was only right to bring my three-foot Godzilla so that it could be like the little dogs in Goya depicted in his paintings. I don't think Big G made the final cut but he was a nice addition to the shoot, especially when a Japanese family walked by -- surprised to see Japan's iconic monster on the lagoon path -- and exclaimed "Gojira!"

Photo caption: Rebecca Webb

Photo credit: Cathy Alberich

Rebecca Webb

Webb, who is also the programmer for UCSD's Art Power, says her project is also very much about the audience, "Goya painted his ‘Gentlemen’s Paintings’ series for a particular audience. In my portrait series, instead of making these images for a specific clientele, the subjects themselves beg the question about 'audience' - How do we see ourselves in the beholder’s eye? Does our photographic image mirror our self-perception?"

Photo caption: Another of Adriene Hughes photos in the Masked/Unmasked exhibit.

Photo credit: Adriene Hughes

Another of Adriene Hughes photos in the Masked/Unmasked exhibit.

Hughes' photos are self-reflective as they explore her breast cancer survivorship but not in a way you might expect.

Hughes explains that the catalyst for her striking series was something she saw at the swap meet: "When I was going through chemotherapy in early 2005, on my 'good weekends' I would go to the swap meet and walk around early in the morning. There was a particular vendor who would have this deer head on the table and I always felt a certain sense of sympathy and kinship to this animal. I felt like this poor beast, decapitated and a constant frozen state of shock, despite the fact I was putting on a sense of bravado for those around me about my therapies to survive breast cancer. I never forgot the look of this animal. I felt like him."

Hughes' amazing photos have a surreal quality as they depict a woman wearing a deer head mask and posing in what would seem otherwise normal or realistic scenes. The mask used in the photos was one Hughes stumbled upon and was drawn to.

She says she is "a breast cancer survivor who explores the personal meaning of survivorship through the use of mask as metaphor mediated between animal and woman. The experiential component of this imagery, aligned with identification with the animal figure, is loosely based on animal-like creatures from Greek mythology who played a range of positions in the lives of the ancient Greeks, from devouring to helping. In these images, the deer/woman becomes a mythological figure and co-collaborator, an active participant in the meaning and interpretation of survivorship. Performing in both nature and the domestic space, deer/woman as communicator and helper confronts issues of familia structures, navigating the personal, and redefining the space of a woman’s body."

Although it wasn't planned for this reason, the exhibition will be taking place during breast cancer awareness month.

SSWA performers at opening night include: Stacy Dyson, Heather Fowler, Laura Leisinger, Rebecca Moos, Yesi Padilla, and Bonnie ZoBell. The exhibition itself runs through October 31.

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