Identities: Cultural Creations featuring artwork by Misoo and Wendy Copp is on display at GreenTARA Space until July 14th, 2019. In the midst of a contemporary culture that habitually overlooks the female perspective, Misoo and Copp have created artwork that illuminates their personal identity in a way that insists on respect and serves to empower those who encounter it. By creating imaginary realities for the viewer to experience, Misoo and Copp project a deeper meaning that can only be understood by abandoning the traditional frame of reference.
In the reality occupied by Misoo’s paintings she reigns supreme. Pulling from her experiences as a minority, and the sense of alienation felt as an Asian woman in Vermont, she created The Giant Asian Girls and The Giantess Series. To surpass her imposed cultural identity she amplifies her self and her message. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse she uses art to regain her power, heal, and reframe the world that women, minorities, and abuse survivors occupy. She manifests the sentiment best stated by Carl Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Stepping in front of a painting by Misoo, the viewer is greeted by a grand woman with a chorus of collaged imagery depicting common cartoons and the triumphs of man as found in history books. Despite the sheer volume of collaged imagery within each painting, those moments are strikingly insignificant compared to the presence of each woman who sits upon them. Each subject’s silent stare speaks louder than the many voices surrounding her. In fact it is only within the figure that a calm moment can be found, and in this calmness is depth, and strength, and the power Misoo wishes to share. Her women are regal and composed. Almost all are making eye contact in that way that only a painting can; with a gaze that is always direct. The eyes silently say “I am here.”
The Giant Asian Girls Series addresses violence against women and the racial stereotypes experienced by Asian women in Western society. In defiance of the Western fetishization of Asian women, the subjects in these portraits are dressed in everyday clothes, and assume relaxed positions that accentuate their comfort, and not the sexuality of their body. The Giantess Series includes similarly empowered women who are real life abuse survivors. The artist’s intent is to restore the sense of self worth that is lost when abused, and bring to life the presence of her cultural and feminine identity in epic proportions.
Misoo’s paintings draw the viewer in by demanding attention with their massive presence, amplified in contrast to the intricacy of the collaged elements. A reoccurring theme within each collage is the relationship of man to the land; here he is conquering a frontier, felling a tree, waging a war. There is his house of worship, defying gravity in the name of religion. This onslaught of information brings the viewer to an extreme point of contemplation, which is gently transformed into meditation once Copp’s sculptures enter the narrative.
Copp’s pieces are a remembrance of our relationship to the earth, and a renewal of our perspective of how we are linked to nature. Where Misoo orients through contrast, Copp does so through connection. Her sculptural assemblages of natural materials take on familiar forms: animal masks with character, dresses and shoes reminiscent of high fashion. The thought of entering a sculpture and wearing it brings about the possibility of fully merging with nature to form an identity that honors the earth and the feminine spirit that Copp represents in her compositions.
At certain points in her life Copp has set out into the wilds of Vermont with a pack and a horse. On these lengthy solo journeys she immersed herself in nature. These experiences allowed her to access her instincts, and left a lasting impression that is evident in the visceral quality of her sculptures, and the method in which she approaches her art practice. Her creative process starts in nature with the choice of barks, leaves, and grasses she collects, and mirrors the evolution of nature by honoring the inevitability of change, decomposition, and renewal. Her sculptures are not static when presented in the gallery, but are seen in a phase of their evolution, bound to grow again into new forms.
Many of her sculptures are made of the invasive Phragmites grass, which grows in great thickets all across Vermont and the US. Phragmites’ imposing height decreases wetland biodiversity by blocking the sun from other plants, and creates an unfavorable habitat for fauna by growing in dense clusters. In the areas that Phragmites has taken over, it is impossible for native plant and animal ecology to survive and flourish. By using this material Copp acknowledges invasive dominance as an inherent characteristic of nature, but also uses it as a metaphor for aggressive human encroachment, which has become overbearing and devastating for the earth.
It is in this way that Copp shares her perspective that being marginalized and encroached upon can be intrinsic to being a woman. While traveling alone in the woods of Vermont she found that a bear rummaging nearby would illicit fear, but it was only when unknown persons were in proximity that she felt a sense of potential danger. In these moments she was most aware that she was vulnerable as a woman alone. In defiance of that sensation she cultivated the courage to continue to experience the world, despite that underlying sense of vulnerability. With this perspective her dresses and shoes can be observed as sculptural armor, adorned to protect and embolden.
Identities: Cultural Creations celebrates the defiance of fear and vulnerability while promoting inner strength, the feminine spirit, and the courage to persevere as a minority. Both artists have triumphed in their presentation of artwork that does not limit itself to a display of what they can create, but acts as a convincing demonstration of who they can be. By stepping outside the constructs perpetuated by history, society, and common perspectives, they offer the pleasure of art that speaks to the core, offering a hope of connection and understanding. As Jericho Brown stated “hope is always accompanied by the imagination, the will to see what our physical environment seems to deem impossible. Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.” And so have Misoo and Wendy Copp wielded such hope.