A placard awaits guests entering the Future Tenant artist space on Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. “Through their various forms of artistic expression, [these artists] refuse to give in to the burdens of the male gaze. Instead, they yell back at the catcaller,” it reads, welcoming guests to the “I M NOT WITH HIM” art exhibit.
Future Tenant — a non-profit organization run by Carnegie Mellon’s Master of Arts Management Program and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust — will display the art of “I M NOT WITH HIM” through July 22.
The exhibit seeks to reapproach the way women are commonly viewed through the masculine, heterosexual perspective in mainstream art such as film and photography. Women are commonly seen from a male perspective known as the “male gaze.”
“I M NOT WITH HIM” attempts to create new ideas and narratives from the female perspective through artistic expression using non-traditional mediums such as silk prints and looped videos. The exhibit features work by local female artists Hannah Epstein, Lizzee Solomon, Katrina Majkut, Jenna Houston and Njaimeh Njie.
Though Future Tenant has only one long and narrow room, the work was not limited by the small space. With such bare bones, the gallery was an eclectic space filled with thought-provoking work ready to relieve visitors from the bustle of Penn Avenue.
The exhibit’s curator, Christina Lee, is a Carnegie Mellon School of Art graduate and Pittsburgh-based illustrator and designer. As her first curation attempt, Lee said her goal for “I M NOT WITH HIM” was to present talented female artists without the presence of a male gaze, while still commenting on its implications.
“It’s hard to see anything — stories or art — without the male gaze,” Lee said. “So I wanted to see what the female gaze looked like.”
The show’s title is a subtle nod to the phrase “I’m With Her,” made famous by the Hillary Clinton campaign during the 2016 presidential election. The phrase was altered to fit the more retaliative emotion within the feminist movement and the outcome of Clinton’s presidential run.
In the gallery, Houston reclaims objects from a bedroom to illustrate the feminist experience — pillows that read, “JERSEY GIRLS DON’T PUMP GAS,” portraits of queer women printed on silk sheets waving in the center of the gallery and a TV resting on a tiled floor looping footage of two women shaving their hair in a bathroom.
Houston — another Carnegie Mellon University graduate with degrees in gender studies and art — is known for their non-traditional multimedia artistry. For this exhibit, Houston said they drew from personal experiences and their intersectionality with the queer community to create work that is representative of not just themself, but also marginalized members of society.
“My work is engaged with my own experiences with queerness and gendered medical treatment as well as how these ideas intersect with a collective history,” Houston said. “I personally enjoy the joyous playful aesthetics of the show as a space of future possibility for us. I hope others can feel that as well.”
Pouches of hair and used contact lenses are attached to a shower ring chain that hangs like a wind chime at the gallery entrance. Next to Majkut’s cross-stitched images of vaginal contraceptive film, Vagisil, Midol and vaginal contraceptive jelly hangs a black-and-white photograph by Njie of a female protestor holding a sign that reads “I REFUSE TO BE INTIMIDATED BY YOUR IGNORANCE.”
Other non-traditional media used to illustrate feminist perspectives included rug-hooking and plexiglass.
These non-traditional works of art at the “I M NOT WITH HIM” exhibit caught the eye of Allison Cosby — co-founder of gfx, a collective for women and non-binary individuals who stand for ownership and representation in the nightlife community. After visiting the exhibit at Future Tenant, she said that the work on display was a refreshing change of pace from other work she’s seen in galleries right now.
“As women, we are accustomed to being looked at, watched, judged in every way and all the time and conversations about our own health and existence are still happening without us,” Cosby said. “So to walk into a space with Vagisil in embroidery hanging on the wall, for example, just instantly changed that narrative.”
For Lee, curating an event that changed that narrative and celebrated local female artists was exactly what she set out to do.
“I hope that when people walk through this show they realize that there are a lot of really talented female creators in the City,” she said, “[Because] there are so many female artists who are serious and humorous and creative, right in the City.”
Correction: The caption for the first photo in this story previously referred to artist Jenna Houston using female pronouns. Houston uses they/them pronouns.