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Asserting Women's Rights Through Art at Onna

Mon, 05/22/2023 - 16:09

It's been more than two years since Lisa Perry first saw the Instagram post for a mid-20th-century Georgica house she knew she had to save from likely demolition. Since then, she has restored the property, turned it into a showcase for women artists and designers, and had her first successful season there with the art space Onna House.

The building itself is a gem with an impressive pedigree. One of only a few houses on the South Fork designed by Paul Lester Wiener, it was built in 1962 and originally owned by Robert and Ethel Scull, who were important collectors of Pop Art.

She thought she might use the space for her own creative projects, but the fashion designer decided instead to show art by lesser-known female artists along with functional design. The idea of it as a creative gathering place carried over to the ultimate plan.

Onna means woman in Japanese, and she chose the name to call attention to the site's Japanese vibe and its support of women. After a year of assaults on women's rights, her project and concern couldn't be more timely. 

Last year, during the first season that the house was open for exhibitions, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that had made abortions legal across the country since 1973. Since then, many states have banned abortions or added restrictions, often without exceptions. A ban after six weeks was recently signed into law in Florida. These are moves that have proven to be unwelcome across the general population, according to polls and actual votes taken since the ruling.

With this in mind, Ms. Perry's first show for this season, which opens on Saturday, is a group exhibition titled "Pearls, Pills, and Protest," with conceptual art that addresses the theme of access to birth control and abortion, as well as support for women's causes in general, using materials associated with women, such as tapestry, embroidery, quilting, and beading.

Kelly Chuning, Lulu Varona, Michele Pred, and Jerelyn Hanrahan will contribute pieces that fit the theme and provide a "potent juxtaposition: historic symbols of feminine gentility and conservatism metamorphosed into materials applied to explore and defend liberal ideas." 

Ms. Chuning transcribes disparaging language onto fuzzy felt signs with girly pink lettering on a white ground. The texture and soft "feminine" color belie phrases like "you'll never get a man if you can't cook." Ms. Varona also conjoins language and fiber in her art, embroidering onto fabric phrases in Spanish with progressive themes: "Women should live in peace, happiness, and without fear." 

Expired birth control pill packs are incorporated into Ms. Pred's collection of vintage quilts. Ms. Hanrahan brings to the installation the "pearls" of the exhibition's title, with strings of large and lustrous orbs welded from powder-coated steel. 

"Though every artist is unique in her approach, each work in this exhibition challenges historic symbols of feminine gentility and conservatism, repurposing those symbols as inspiration and material for expressing modern ideas," according to the organizers.

The show will remain on view through June 25 and can be accessed by an appointment inquiry through the website.

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