Women of Visions celebrates 40 years

The+University+Art+Gallery+welcomed+guests+back+in-person+with+live+music+and+art+from+members+of+Womens+of+Vision%2C+Inc.+on+Wednesday.++

Sinead McDevitt | Contributing Editor

The University Art Gallery welcomed guests back in-person with live music and art from members of Womens of Vision, Inc. on Wednesday.

By Sinead McDevitt, Contributing Editor

Live music and art welcomed guests back to the University Art Gallery on Wednesday, marking both the 40th anniversary of the formation of Women of Visions as well as the gallery’s first in-person exhibit since February 2020.

Women of Visions, Inc. was formed in 1981 when a group of African-American artists from Pittsburgh came together to uplift and support each other and their art. The exhibit features work from all current members and will run through Feb. 25.

Christine McCray-Bethea, the current president of Women of Visions, said the organization’s goal is to support one another and help find chances to display their work. 

“That’s sort of been our mission, since then, is to encourage emerging artists, to give them opportunities that they might not otherwise get, because it’s a hard market and particularly for women and of course, African-American women,” McCray-Bethea said. “We like to keep the lines of communication open, collaborate, as we did here with the University and you know, keep the visibility going.”

Dominique Scaife, a new member of the organization, joined when longtime member LaVerne Kemp reached out to her on Instagram in 2016. Although Scaife, who primarily makes sculptures, had only been doing art for a year at that point and was self-taught, she said she enjoyed the multi-generational aspect of the group.

“It’s all different ages, so I can look behind me and be excited by you know, women that are younger than me getting into the arts and doing well,” Scaife said. “But also look ahead and get the wisdom of those women that are older than me.” 

Works by all 21 current members of the collective are on display in the gallery, including art from Scaife and McCray-Bethea. One of Scaife’s pieces was a life-sized baby doll made from clay in the front of the gallery.

“I’m just enamored with the human figure,” Scaife said. “I’ve always wanted to address the Black human figure, more so with females in our array of skin tones and just showing us in a positive light.”

McCray-Bethea also has multiple pieces on display, including “Adam and Eve,” a set of wooden figures made from reused materials, which McCray-Bethea said she enjoys using in her work.

“I do a lot of salvage kind of art. I do reclaimed art, you know, I like to find pieces on the street and create work with that,” McCray-Bethea said. “That’s the kind of work that I personally do. I do fiber and salvage art or assembly.”

Students from the museum studies minor helped put together this exhibition over the course of two semesters in Alex Taylor’s Curatorial Development class in the spring and Janet McCall’s Exhibition Presentation course in the fall. These students welcomed guests at the reception. Sydney Christofer, a sophomore double majoring in museum studies and studio arts, was in both classes and said that each one focused on a different part of the exhibition.

“In our first class in the spring with Professor Alex Taylor, it was a lot more of the prep work. So we did a lot of researching on a lot of the artists in the group itself, and Black Pittsburgh,” Christofer said. “In the fall, we were more a part of the process of putting everything together. We wrote some of the labels for the pieces that are inside, and we created the texts that are on the walls and the doors and the design of the layout.”

According to Taylor, one of the challenges of the fall class was not being able to speak to the artists in person. 

“We weren’t in person with any of the artists or indeed looking at their work in person,” Taylor said. “But the kind of exciting part about that is that we were able to have really deep, long in-depth conversations with these artists and learn about their practice, learn about their lives.” 

Besides the artwork on display, visitors can see archival documents from when the collective first formed and learn more about the history of the group. 

During the reception, several people gave speeches, including Abreihona Lenihan, the student spokesperson from the classes, McCray-Bethea, who honored past presidents of the collective, and Sylvia Rohr, the UAG’s director and curator.

Rohr announced at the reception that Taylor will publish a study on the history of Women of Visions. Rohr said several different people will take part, including some of Taylor’s students.

“It’s going to be the first full-length study of Women of Visions,” Rohr said. “There will be essays by scholars, art historians, art administrators, artists, but also student essays that were created in Alex Taylor’s curatorial research class on each of the 16 main artists that were part of Women of Visions before this year.”

Along with the artwork, guests at the reception were treated to a few vocal performances. One of the artists, Elizabeth Asche Douglass, led a group rendition of “Lift Every Voice And Sing” in the front of the gallery and another artist, Altha Pittrell, read one of her poems.

For their 40th anniversary, Women of Visions will host several events through 2022 at locations, such as the Carnegie Museum of Art and William Jennings Gallery in New York, to celebrate all the work they’ve done.

Scaife said being in the group has helped her grow as an artist.

“This group is an amazing group in itself,” Scaife said. “It has allowed me to flourish and become more comfortable with speaking about my pieces and showing my pieces and actually calling myself an artist.”

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