Westport women tackle sensitive issues through art

WESTPORT — Violent, visceral, personal, new — all words that can describe the pop-up art exhibit at 1 Main St.

Among the many reactionary pieces in the show titled “Uncovered: What She Hides” are photos by Barbara Ringer of a discombobulated mannequin with figurines falling out of its neck. Another, a ghastly depiction of a childlike doll that seems to be preyed on by an older, disportionate and distorted male figure.

“Westport, although it has a rich art history, has become very safe art,” artist Darcy Hicks said on Thursday. “We felt like we needed to just be risky.”

The exhibit was led by Hicks, Amy Kaplan, Liz Leggett and art adviser Julie Gannon, and features some of their work along with other female artists in the area.

According to Hicks, the show has art that largely responds to the 2018 political climate: after the hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, footage released of President Donald Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” remarks, subsequent protests and the #MeToo movement.

Additionally, the show includes pieces on often stigmatized topics like mental health, sexual abuse, boredom, loneliness, addiction, aging, motherhood, isolation of suburbia and everyday difficulties Westport women face.

Both Hicks and Kaplan said they are cognizant of the wealth in Westport’s community and how it allows them many more privileges than most in some of these situations. Despite that, Kaplan said the topics are universal and privilege doesn’t shield from all of them.

The show features artists from different age groups and backgrounds, one of them being Chloe Blythe, a 20-year-old who spent some time in Westport after fleeing a domestic violence situation.

Blythe said her art includes scraps of documents she retrieved from her lawyer regarding the abuse, a depiction of her face after her assault, and experiences with drug addiction.

Like many revolutionary collaborations, the idea for the art show started over coffee.

A few months ago, the women who met by chance at art exhibits and protests, began having conversations not only about the art they made for the public and for themselves, but the kind that helped them through what Hicks called a demeaning time period in history.

She recalled finding herself in her studio often making two different artworks, one to frame and share and the other that was often stowed away.

One of Hicks’ hidden pieces was “Wash,” a painting in which she despicts herself as a young newlywed doing laundry with passages of feminist classics forged into her dress. Hicks said the piece was a reflection of her struggle with feeling like an empowered woman after going to the all-girls Smith College, where she read female empowerment novels by authors like Jane Austen.

“I think I imagined I was going to be stronger than I was,” she said. “I was confused about my role as a mother, wife — feeling so invincible then washing underpants.”

Both Hicks and Kaplan describe their art as being cathartic.

“During the Kavanaugh hearing, I learned what trigger meant,” Kaplan said.

As a sexual assault survivor, Kaplan said she has integrated the experience into her identity. However, after the Kavanaugh hearing, where details described by Christine Blasey Ford had been very similar to her assault, Kaplan began to fume.

“Hearing Trump’s comments,” she said. “It really brought me back.”

Kaplan kept her story mostly hidden for the last 30 years. Then she made art.

Even then, she was still unsure if she wanted to share such intimate information with the world, especially with the lingering shame that is common among many assault survivors. These feelings are reflected in her piece “Whyididntreport.”

But through the years, Kaplan learned she shouldn’t feel ashamed of an act perpetrated on her. Although she doesn’t expect her art to be something hung in a living room, Kaplan noted it was important to show other women they are not alone.

The artists will be continuing the dialogue at the show’s next event — Coffee and Conversation on May 7 — and until the exhibit ends in June.

Although the exhibit explores raw and vulnerable topics, Hicks said she wanted the show to be a conversation, where people can come together and not only talk about hard subjects, but also to laugh.