Shotgun Review

Ursula Brookbank: She World

By Erica C. Gomez January 23, 2013

Just inside the rear entrance of Krowswork Gallery in Oakland, an X-ray, sheet music, and other detritus create an eclectic, altar-like composition in front of whitewashed brick, while a row of pews extend back toward a darkened doorway. Any hesitation to step into this darkness abates as the light from the small silver flashlight I am carrying catches the surface of Ursula Brookbank’s self-portrait. Photographed in profile, shrouded in lace and finery, her image recalls the long-standing practice of portrait painting historically executed by male artists—a recurring theme throughout the show. A work by electronic sound artist Emily Lacey plays on loop in the background, seamlessly alternating with found recordings of women’s laughter, voices, and folk songs.

Absent the stark white walls and structure of a traditional exhibition, Ursula Brookbank: SHE WORLD transforms the act of viewing into a self-guided, private experience of a world comprised of ephemera. The show resembles an archeological display of artifacts, but that field’s rigid investigative structure is pared away from these remnants in revealing the stories of ordinary women from the past. Pages of a catalogue identifying the women and their belongings are loosely pinned to a wall, while an array of cookbooks are nestled together with tins of letters, photographs, and cosmetic accoutrements on a table in another room. Replica portraits of women such as the Mona Lisa are juxtaposed against the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle from June 2, 1953, which depicts Queen Elizabeth. The date is also the artist’s birth date, which, given the biographical context of the objects presented, subverts

 

Ursula_Brookbank_She_World

Ursula Brookbank. SHE WORLD, 2012; installation view, Krowswork, Oakland. Courtesy of Kroswork. Photo: Jasmine Moorhead.

traditional hierarchical positions for portraiture by giving priority to the newspaper image over those of the paintings.

Amid the belongings is a novel written by author and civil rights pioneer Lillian Smith, who wrote of interracial marriage in 1944. Similarly, a 1922 newspaper clipping instructing women in carpentry skills and a microscope kit next to images of jellyfish provide evidence of women’s interests beyond the domestic sphere. Ursula Brookbank: SHE WORLD is loaded with moments that capture a desire for change and independence in a prior age. These vignettes weave together connections between history and the present to give voice to and evoke the women whose lives are assembled here.

 

 

Ursula Brookbank: SHE WORLD is on view at Krowswork, in Oakland, through February 9, 2013.

 

Erica Gomez resides in Oakland and is currently pursuing an MA in Visual and Critical Studies at California College of the Arts. She holds a BA from Metropolitan State University of Denver in Art History, Theory, and Criticism. 

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