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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Aidekman exhibits question societal pressures on women

The two spring exhibits currently on display at the Tufts University Gallery consequently form an interesting dichotomy; though one examines the world of young girls today and the other questions societal restrictions on their more mature counterparts, both "Girl Culture" and "Time Signatures" question our perception of the female form and force viewers to examine the societal pressures that shape the lives of all kinds of women.

"Time Signatures" is the work of artist Barbara Zucker. The project's roots go back to 1989, when Zucker began a series of work called "For Beauty's Sake," which was based on the processes involved with plastic surgery. But her artwork evolved into something else in 1998, when Zucker began taking photographs of herself and of other mature women and then translating their facial wrinkles into prints and three-dimensional sculptures.

The pieces that resulted from her project, perhaps fittingly, don't quite look as one would expect them to. They are twisted and curling, balancing against the walls, made out of rubber and metal and even Plexiglas. One stands over five feet tall in the center of the room, matching the height of the subject who donated her photograph for it.

"They all started out right side up. I was being literal and dutiful," Zucker said. "But then I decided that they should go whatever way they look good. They evolved into moving parts that could change according to the space."

The sculptures are all created from photographs, and stay true to the wrinkles in the faces of the pictured women. The subjects include Zucker herself (part of the back of her neck is on display on the left-hand wall of the exhibit) and several of her friends, as well as one piece that was made from a picture of artist Georgia O'Keefe.

"I came up with the idea that wrinkles, fissures, lines on faces - female faces - are not in and of themselves ugly; it is the culture that tells us they are ugly," Zucker said.

Zucker also created a 15-foot-tall piece specifically for the exhibit entitled, "Lilian's Face Flowing," with the help of a grant from the Artist's Resource Trust of New England. Her newest creation was made onsite and hangs cascading down from the second story of the Remis Sculpture Court.

"I lurk in the margins. I do want to make a difference, no matter how small," Zucker said. "I would like women to feel better about the complex, amazing maps of their faces. And I would like men to like looking at these women, too. But equally, I want to flay my skin, and rail against the ravages of time."

"Girl Culture," the first exhibit to open this week in the Aidekman Arts Center, was put together by award-winning photographer Lauren Greenfield as part of an attempt to examine the daily lives of girls everywhere. It consists of 58 photos and a series of corresponding interviews that provide a vivid look into the world of young women today.

The series of photographs captures the lives of girls across the country and presents a wide cross-section of American females. Greenfield's youngest subject, six-year-old Lily, claims Britney Spears as her role model and shops for clothes in the ritzy Rachel London's Garden. Her statement says that, "I really want to be a teenager. Now. Really fast."

In another shot, attendees at a weight loss camp wait uncomfortably on the beach in their bathing suits. Statements from some of them describe how, even in the camp setting, the thinnest and prettiest girls became the most popular. Further along in the series, four girls, barely old enough to be teenagers, pose in heavy makeup before their first dance, looking like they belong more in "Vogue" than in middle school.

Greenfield captures the rituals associated with the everyday lives of girls everywhere, from daily routines of putting on makeup three times a day to the elaborate preparations involved in getting ready for one's high school prom. Rather than glorifying these rituals, Greenfield's works always question if too much importance has been put on looking good and fitting in, and the subjects of the photographs grow more serious as one moves farther into the exhibit.

The vivid, often emotionally raw statements from many of her subjects compliment the photographs and often reveal another side to the pictured girls. These are the stories that rarely make the cover pages of a newspaper or magazine, but they are real and present in the lives of young women everywhere.

The darker sides of culture and peer pressure today are often hidden away or ignored, but Greenfield shows absolutely no hesitation in bringing avoided issues to the forefront. Her photographs show teenage mothers and a 24-year-old anorexic, made so anxious by the thought of weight gain that she has to stand backwards on the scale.

It is also hinted that this cycle, as condemnable as it is, is self-perpetuating. A statement from a young girl that appears at the beginning of the exhibit, talks about how she wants to become a topless dancer when she grows up. Later, 24-year-old Leilani describes how she was forced to choose between working as a topless dancer to put herself through college and her place on the school's track team after her coaches found out and disapproved.

These issues are not easily confronted, but Greenfield's simple, freeze-frame style captures many of her subjects in their most real moments. Her effort to photograph girls as they really are provides an accurate look into the culture of girls and young woman.

If Greenfield's work questions the state of young girls today, then the second new exhibit in the Aidekman gallery celebrates and challenges how we perceive the women that these girls will one day become.

Artist Lauren Greenberg speaks tonight in the Cohen Auditorium at 7 p.m.