Next week, on the 100th anniversary of when the 19th amendment to the US constitution was certified, an exhibition of works by American artist Michelle Vaughan will open in New York. In the show, called “A Movement of Women,” Vaughan investigates the last century of feminist history in an unusual way. Instead of looking at the women who led the fight for the 19th amendment and those who carry on their legacy today, Vaughan reflects on the role prominent conservative women, many of whom have opposed progressive ideals, have played in women’s rights.
The show is set to open at Theodore: Art in Brooklyn on August 26th, the centennial of the day when the 19th amendment was officially ratified giving women the right to vote, although it would be decades, still, before all women, particularly women of colour, were able to vote. “A Movement of Women” will showcase a series of portraits by Vaughan depicting 40 major conservative women. Some, like anti-feminist and anti-gay activist singer Anita Bryant and anti-Equal Rights Amendment champion Phyllis Schlafly, are from bygone decades but others, like Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Palin, and Betsy DeVos, are current conservative women weighing in on the state of women’s rights today.
Vaughan’s portraits are purposefully created in pastel tones, evoking a stereotypical notion of femininity, set against pale pink paper. Accompanying the portraits are quotes, also set on pink paper, said by the women Vaughan painted. Some of the quotes are nothing short of shocking, like that of Ann Coulter, who stated: “[i]t would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact.” Others cut against women who have fought and continue to fight for equality, like Nikki Haley’s comment that “[t]here is no war on women.”
The purpose of the exhibition, though, isn’t meant to be slanderous, but to ask viewers to do their part in critically evaluating the arguments and statements of some of the most notable women in the US. Vaughan wants guests to “ponder the complexities of American political history.” In addition to the portraits and quotes, “A Movement of Women” will offer a research library and archival materials for visitors to begin their research.
“A Movement of Women” was inspired by the 2016 election when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but still lost to now president Donald Trump. To Vaughan, it seemed like a “giant paradox,” which she then set out to unravel through an examination of prominent conservative women.
In a press release, Vaughan said of “A Movement of Women”:
Why solely conservative women? Because I wanted a clearer understanding of “progress” versus “tradition” when it comes to women’s rights, health and equality. For instance, a woman’s right to choose has been under attack since the passing of Roe v. Wade, leaving progressive women in a constant state of defense for the last 46 years, instead of building a stronger coalition for women’s health as a whole. Also fascinating are the recent sexual discrimination lawsuits which took place at companies like Fox News, the Department of Education rolling back sexual assault protection on college campuses and the unfair pay gap women still face in the workforce.
I wanted to unpack some of these issues and learn more about the stories and backgrounds of women who help enforce the status quo and traditional values. Much of my work investigates power and paradoxes, and this project is no different.
Now based in New York, Vaughan studied at UCLA. Her works have been included in a number of group exhibitions as well as the focus of solo shows. Hand-set, hand-pulled letterpress prints that are included in “A Movement of Women” are available through Theodore: Art.
“A Movement of Women” is on view between August 26th, 2020 and October 22nd, 2020 Theodore: Art in Brooklyn, New York City.