Nut, She Who Protects, 33” x 23”, fiber, embroidery, applique, beads
Artists have been juggling concepts of the sacred and profane for centuries. In the late 20th century Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Martin Scorsese’s movie “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and Andres Serrano’s infamous photo “Piss Christ” raised political and social protests upon first sight. When African American artist Renee Cox posed naked as Jesus Christ in her photographic version of Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” (the apostles were all Black men, except for Judas who was white) New York major Rudy Guiliani was incensed and tried to have it banned from the Brooklyn Museum.
Linda Jurkiewicz’s exhibit “Who Will Hear My Plea?” deals with a heady mix of religion, myth and feminism, but due to the show’s heartfelt sincerity, craftsmanship and sheer originality, it’s doubtful anyone will find it perturbing. If anything, viewers will walk away convinced that Jurkiewicz’s art underscores some painful realities, made bearable because of the sheer approachability, and beauty, of her exhibition.
Jurkiewicz, who lives in Kansas City, has been a fiber artist since 2005. She repurposes textiles typically connected to “women’s work,” such as dish towels, clothing and old muslin. She converts these materials into both two- and three-dimensional forms, in order “to explore and challenge past and current viewpoints of women’s roles in our society.” For a previous exhibit at Leedy-Voulkos, Jurkiewicz made dozens of dolls, in a brigade formation, carrying rolls of toilet paper, scissors, pots and pans, etc. to emphasis the multiplicity of chores women perform every day.
In “Who Will Hear My Plea,” Jurkiewicz is clear about her concerns. Her inventively sewn textiles explore the “limitations, bravery, passion, zeal and compassion” of female saints, martyrs and goddesses, whom she entreats to “hear the pleas of the women of the world.” The plight of these storied women from centuries ago, Jurkiewicz believes, differs only slightly from that of women today.
On the entrance wall Jurkiewicz has created a special place for visitors to leave their prayers on Post-it notes, and that space has quickly filled up.
The show is installed in an underground, intimate space that mimics a cloistered chapel. Hymns play softly, votive candles flicker in front of the artworks (shaped mostly like stained glass windows), and there are kneelers where you can pray. Anyone raised Catholic will recognize the references to the Stations of the Cross, devotionals in churches picturing scenes from the day of Christ’s crucifixion. (To underscore her setting, Jurkiewicz dressed in traditional nun’s clothing when she delivered her artist’s talk). But in Jurkiewicz’s version, the stations tell the stories of St. Rose of Lima, St. Margaret, St. Lucia, the Virgin Mary, St. Agatha, and a religious triptych with a combination of saints. Next to each work is a biography of the saint and her various merits.
On the opposite wall Jurkiewicz honors the ancient historical goddesses Arianrhod, who is Welsh, the Egyptian Goddess Nut, the Syrian Mother Goddess Atagartis, and the biggest bad ass of them all, the Hindu deity Kali.
All of Jurkiewicz’ heroines are well endowed with hair of all kinds, and are both fierce and, weirdly enough, somewhat cuddly (it helps that they are in some ways comparable to stuffed dolls). If their facial features resemble one another, it is because they were all inspired by a figure the artist calls “Bah,” who came to her in a dream.
Although Jurkiewicz has honored these celebrated saints and goddesses and their poignant and extraordinary histories, and although she invokes them to guide and protect the women of today, she also questions whether the collective voices from the past and the present, although they are getting louder, are powerful enough to be heard and understood.
“Who Will Hear My Plea by Linda Jurkiewicz” continues at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, Underground Gallery II, 2012 Baltimore Ave., through Sept. 30. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. For more information, 816.474.1919 or www.leedy-voulkos.com/leedyunderground.