My first glimpse of the Mission’s Galería de la Raza is the kind face of an indigenous woman smiling sagely at me through the gallery’s windows, defiance reflected in her warm eyes while large pink roses frame her face like a sigil of beauty and protection.
Sabogal, Galería de la Raza’s digital mural project coordinator, previously worked on the 2014 show Women are Perfect (If You Let Them!), a series of murals celebrating the different bodies and identities of women. The message resounded with Galería director Ani Rivera, who decided to extend the project into the current Womxn are Perfect! group exhibition.
“For me, politically saying ‘women are perfect’ is just accepting them for who they are and their value as they are right now,” Rivera says. “You’re a work in progress, and that’s okay -- you’re perfect.”
Rivera, Sabogal, and the rest of the gallery’s curatorial committee received 135 responses to their nationwide open call this January, with interpretations of the phrase "women are perfect" addressing violence, oppression and ideas on the female body.
“Perfection is different for everybody because we all carry different ethnic experiences, body abilities, some of us are born in the wrong body -- what does that mean for someone who identifies as a woman?” Rivera says. “So we wanted to talk about the physical body elements and how they’re challenged or accepted.”
San Francisco-based artist Cynthia Brannvall directly confronts these expectations of physical perfection through her piece Portrait Medallions, a collage of vaginas constructed out of porcelain and lace in various shapes.
“The work was really investigating how the material signifier can evoke the idea of a feminine presence and also a little of that sexual delight,” Brannvall says. “My piece brings in an element of desire and pleasure and an affirmation of the beauty of the female form.”
Another piece by South Bay artist Eliana Cetto deals with the vulnerability of the female body in public. Cetto filmed herself undressing in front of a green screen onto which different public places in her San Jose neighborhood are projected.
“I basically created a virtual place where I could feel empowered and I can point out to the viewer that I’m not really safe whether I’m clothed or unclothed -- it’s really the gaze of the viewer and the eyes of the people on the street that are the culprit,” Cetto says.
Rivera says she hopes that the collection’s examination of the ways women perceive their own perfection and connection to womanhood will inspire conversations and create opportunities for young women and children. Galería de la Raza itself has a history of being a women-led space, with the current staff largely filled by women of color.
“Women have always been part of the Galería history -- we’re very intentional about creating opportunities for women, about training women in arts production and administration, about providing a platform for oppressed and marginalized people," Rivera says. "Our survival is dependent on being able to reach out to new voices and being able to give them a space."
Womxn Are Perfect! holds an opening reception on Saturday, March 5, 6-9pm at Galería de la Raza in San Francisco. The exhibition is on view through March 26. For more information visit galeriadelaraza.org.