With ArtPrize in full swing, downtown Grand Rapids is overflowing with art exhibits. Sculptures, paintings, photographs, and more adorn the city streets, parks, and the exteriors of buildings as well as the interiors. Some exhibits are breathtakingly beautiful. Others are cute and clever, while a few are silly and gimmicky. Not all the artistic presentations gently whisper their significance through tones and hues, several have obvious messages that are a bit loud and obnoxious.
There were two sculptures that caught my attention as I made my rounds over the weekend. I saw the first one on Saturday with my friend, Adam. We walked around a corner and then all of a sudden there she was – a rather interesting figure of a woman. She stood on two legs, with her face looking up and her arms reaching toward the sky. I knew it was a woman because she was in a green dress and her torso had the correct proportions, but if it hadn’t been for that I wouldn’t have know what it was. I tilted my head to the side, hoping to see some glimpse of beauty. Nothing. I could see where the artist was going but it just didn’t work for me. I didn’t see myself reflected in her.
I started to move onto the next entry when the artist who had been standing close by approached Adam and asked if we would like to hear about the statue. He looked at me. I shrugged. “Sure,” he replied graciously.
She went on to explain how the woman was rising from adversity, hence the name of the piece: The Feminine Rising. She pointed out the large feet and legs of the statue, signifying her strong foundation. Her arms were raised showing she had no limitations. Her face was lifted in joy, and her features were a combination of many cultures. This statue represented women from all around the globe. The artist continued with her message. She seemed to drone on for quite a while, pointing out several other details, before finally stopping. At which time Adam and I politely made our escape.
“Maybe it’s just me,” I said as soon as we were outside, “but I didn’t see anything feminine in that statue whatsoever!”
Adam laughed. “It wasn’t just you. I didn’t see it either! I thought it was interesting how the artist was so proud of the strong legs and large feet. All I could think was how masculine they looked!” He was right: There was very little about the statue that captured the delicate beauty of femininity.
The following day, I entered a small room. On a pedestal in the middle of the room was a statue of a woman. She sat hunched over her crossed legs with her arms wrapped around her body. The artist stood silently in the corner as I walked around the figure. Other than a short explanation posted on the wall, she allowed the artwork, Hope Eternal, to speak for itself.
Is hope, as Nietzsche wrote, “the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man”? Or is hope human’s greatest strength? I believe it is the latter. Hope Eternal is a seated female figure: vulnerable, unprotected, drenched by life, and washed over by waves of despair and grief. But–a tiny flicker of hope remains as she ever so slightly lifts her fingers away from her huddled shoulders. It is a contemplative piece. It is about the resiliency of the human spirit. It represents a moment of life: a moment of transformation from the night of pain to the light of realizing life may be lived again. -Marie Davis, artist
The artist’s words added greater depth and meaning to the already beautiful feminine image. Hope is represented by the strength of femininity – a femininity that is determined to overcome hardships yet does not deny that she is delicate, frail and vulnerable. I wanted to share in her anguish so I could also share her hope. I could relate to her not only because I have seen her reflected in many women I know, but because I have been her. (That is not to say I couldn’t relate to the joy of The Feminine Rising because I’ve never experienced joy. I have, but it is a different kind of joy. I find joy in being who God made me to be, not in denying it.) To me, Hope Eternal portrays the true feminine rising: she is beautiful and strong in her vulnerability as she gathers herself for what is to come.
My thoughts as I walked out of that room were the opposite of the previous night. I had been annoyed by the first statue’s odd representation of woman and was grateful to see that true femininity was also on display at the second annual ArtPrize.