During the regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, from 1973 to 1990, thousands of his critics, usually men, disappeared. Women were pressured not to protest. Many of them expressed their unhappiness in art.
Three tapestries up now at William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs and created by Chilean women of that era, show public spaces inhabited only by women, children, pets and men in uniform. The women unhappily go about their lives. The men carry guns, drive police vans, round up women in nets. The women's roles are forced upon them. The men's roles were to keep them in line.
The exhibit "Living in Frames: Gendered Spaces" explores the manner in which a person's gender defines how they inhabit a space, either a literal space or a symbolic space.
Other artworks show more assertive women moving through spaces dominated by men. A photograph taken in a public square in Haiti by Maggie Steber, and a drawing by Reginald Marsh, depict neatly dressed ladies walking confidently, clearly with someplace to go. They pass men hanging around, lounging against walls, chatting and loitering, not going anywhere.
More industrious men inhabit a workspace in a triptych of paintings by Harry Leith-Ross. They toil in groups, doing lumber work, focused on their labors. Another triptych, a 1909 series of paintings by Henry Mosler, shows women alone. Each represents a season: two pretty young ladies standing in the sunshine symbolizing spring and summer, and a stooped old woman, carrying a bundle of kindling on a snow-covered path, representing winter.
A photograph by Hank Willis Thomas focuses on two African-American men playing basketball, but the hoop is a noose. The stereotype of black men playing basketball is a gender-specific trap. Another photograph, Dorothea Lange's legendary 1936 "Migrant Mother, Nipomo, Calif.," places a woman in an undesirable situation: raising children in poverty.
Two images of older women show differing views of a woman's place. Nicolas Vasilieff's oil on canvas "Woman With White Dog" (1946) illustrates a woman out of context. She seems to be where she belongs, but where is that? Who is she? Why is she dressed and made up so lavishly?
Phyllis Galembo's 1987 photograph "Iyalorixa (Chief Priestess) of Iemanja, Helena dos Santos, Terreiro Ajunsu Ifa Demi" portrays a woman both serious and serene, in a white gown, sitting at her altar, the place that gives her power and status.
The exhibit was curated by students in Françoise Dussart's class "Anthropological Perspectives on Art." The student co-curators are Stephanie Abadom, David Attolino, Sarah Castleberry, Hannah Einsiedel, Alexa Every, Jocelyn Hernandez, Esther Kang, David Lagace, Kevin Mendoza, Conor Merchant, Hayden Miller, Beth Park, Bruno Perosino, Catherine Ramirez Mejla, Lily Shih, Mackenzie Tarczali, Abdul Vanadze and Daphnée Yiannaki.
"LIVING IN FRAMES: GENDERED SPACES" will be at William Benton Museum of Art, 245 Glenbrook Road, on the campus of University of Connecticut in Storrs, until Dec. 17. benton.uconn.edu.