Just in time for International Women’s Day, the Ackland Art Museum is inviting the community to take a walk through the Enlightenment from women’s perspectives.
The Ackland is teaming up with Carolina Public Humanities to highlight the museum’s new exhibition, “Becoming a Woman in the Age of the Enlightenment,” and lead a discussion about French Enlightenment literature on Friday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m.
The event is part of 2nd Friday ArtWalk, an initiative to celebrate the arts in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities and encourage students and residents to explore new venues. Guests are invited to participate in a mask-making craft activity to explore how women adorned themselves and to grab a bite to eat at the food truck outside.
“We’re staying open until 9 p.m., so it’s a great opportunity for folks to be able to head out with friends or dates,” Ackland’s Public Programs Manager, Allison Portnow Lathrop said.
The exhibit explores how women were viewed in 18th-century France through an artistic lens. Most women were thought to be objects of beauty and elegance, and were painted with delicate strokes.
“Women are displayed as ornaments,” said Allyson Take, an art history major who spent last semester studying visual arts in London. “They’re usually portrayed as docile and more subdued.”
Women in the Enlightenment era were often seen as caregivers. In art, their femininity would be expressed through scenes of motherhood or housekeeping.
“Especially toward the end of the 18th century, there was an influence on motherhood,” Take said. “There was this idea that being a good mother is synonymous with being a good woman, and that there’s femininity in maternity.”
But some began to challenge the opinion that women only belonged as mothers and wives. The collection also includes intense mythological scenes and women painted in powerful, thought-provoking poses.
“The exhibit is very time and theme based,” said Curtis Coltharp, a member of Student Friends of the Ackland. “It features a variety of medium as well, which is fun.”
When asked about his favorite piece, Coltharp chose “Erato Serenading Thalia, Euterpe and Melpomene,” a whimsical, mythological painting by Charles-Joseph Natoire.
“It’s a very timely piece,” Coltharp said. “It has elements of spring and Valentine and follows the theme of women making art.”
Though most artists in the Enlightenment were men, the exhibit features female artists to show the progression towards equality in the visual arts.
Jessica Tanner, assistant professor of French, will lead a related discussion on the 18th-century French novel “Les Liaisons dangereuses" (Dangerous Liaisons) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The novel explores the decadence of the French aristocracy and the use of seduction as a weapon.
“People will be able to explore resonances between the book characters and get to look at artwork from the same time and place,” Portnow Lathrop said. “It’s a sort of joint book discussion/art discussion.”
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