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Womanish Museum Review By: paige darling and Janessa Mosqueda

Womanish is a woman-themed pop up and interactive museum in Chicago running from Sept. 3-Nov. 30, 2020; admission is $35. It is described as a movement exploring identity and perspective through exhibits made by women. Janessa Mosqueda ‘22 and Paige Darling ‘21 reviewed the museum and have chosen four rooms to review and compare their perspectives.

“Selfish”

Description:

When walking in, there was a floor-to-ceiling mirror with a sign that read “Do You—A SELF CARE SALON.” The layout of this room was salon themed with two sections designed to be a mini nail salon and hair salon. There were magazines placed next to the hair dryers that were labeled as “The SELFISH Issue.” On the right wall there are six portraits of black women with various hairstyles made out of what appeared to be yarn.

Darling’s perspective:

The six portraits were by far my favorite part of the room because they did a lovely job of displaying the many styles of black women's hair. Placing the portraits in the self care room was fitting in order to show the importance that is attached to hair and how women take care of themselves by doing their hair, especially black women. A lot of black women dedicate whole days to do their hair because it’s a lengthy process. I like the idea that doing your hair is a way to connect with yourself and put yourself first. However, I feel it fell short by not including women of other ethnicities and women with short or no hair.

Another part of the room I appreciated was the sticky note mirror. Guests were encouraged to write any message that “was on your heart.” I always love the “make your mark” and “reach out to strangers” elements found in these types of museums. I completely agree with the creator's message of how we should share our experiences to build love within our communities. My optimistic mind likes to think small messages may have a great impact on someone, although I wished they would’ve communicated their message in a more unique way than the often repeated method of sticky notes.

Mosqueda’s Perspective:

The main point of this room was to state that it’s okay for women to prioritize themselves and practice self care and that the stereotypical gender role that encourages women to always place their partners, kids and families before them is not something that needs to be followed. This prioritization of self is seen by many as “selfish,” but this room boldly states that it is an essential to put yourself first. It’s okay to get your nails done and it’s okay to go get your hair dyed. I liked that the layout of the room was salon-like because it felt like I was walking in to get a manicure. The message of the room was extremely important, and it did a good job of telling women that it’s okay to be “selfish” and make sure that your needs are as important as the needs of others.

“Tell Me To Smile And I’ll Scream”

Description:

A small room reminiscent of a ‘50s kitchen. On the right wall, there was a checkered tablecloth, dial phone and old-fashioned magazine. Next to the table stood a mannequin holding a tray of lemons. The left wall—across from the table—in bold yellow letters had “TELL ME TO SMILE & I’LL SCREAM” plastered on it.

Mosqueda’s Perspective:

I highly anticipated the yellow room because it was such a vibrant color. Society says that women are always supposed to be seen as smiling and happy, and only certain emotions— usually positive— are acceptable in public. The bright yellow of the room represents how society needs to see women as happy. The phrase on the left wall shows that we’re done putting up with having to comply with these “unspoken rules.” Just how yellow is a bright color that you can get tired of quickly, women are tired of meaningless expectations and gender norms.

“Consumerish”

Description:

Designed like a pharmacy with pink tampons in clear boxes on the shelves. One wall had a magazine-inspired collage of different women and phrases with a yellow shopping cart in front of it. On the opposite wall, a long receipt listed statistics on the pink tax and how much more women pay for items. A shopping cart with more plush tampons lay on the floor.

Darling’s Perspective:

To me this room was one of the best. The art was playful, colorful and immersive—from the collages reminiscent of magazine pages to shelves of feminine products. This room was the most unique to me and did a fabulous job at creating new art to discuss the pink tax. I love concepts that have possible controversy or ideas that can turn heads, and this room was definitely that. Periods have been deemed taboo and an untouchable subject in society and openly talking about the pink tax and periods as well as show tampons pushes boundaries. It also creates more relatability across the experience of being a woman. I appreciated the learning opportunity in this room with the facts on the receipt and walls.

“Paidish”

Description:

In the center of this room was a huge, light up $20 bill of Harriet Tubman. On one side of the room, there was a couch that had a money print fabric and right above it were the word “F U PAY US” in cursive green letters.

Mosqueda’s Perspective:

This room was addressing the pay difference between men and women and demanded that women get the same paycheck amount as men. Women have an average pay gap of about 20% and that wage gap only increases with minority women. The Harriet Tubman $20 bill represents what we could have already had, as putting Harriet Tubman on US currency was delayed until 2028. If men and women are working the same jobs, why shouldn’t they be paid the same? The 20 dollar bill was my favorite because it gave people a glimpse of what our currency will hopefully look like in a few years.

Overall:

Darling’s Perspective:

Womanish was a colorful, relatable, and well thought out experience that gave us something different in our pandemic-riddled world. The creators used their voices effectively to discuss topics like the wage gap and periods. Despite the great creativity that was featured, I left wanting more. I wished Womanish was more inclusive in the imagery they showed of women and really took more of a stand on what they talked about. The exhibit claimed to embrace all women but I felt most of the pictures were of black women, which is great, but we can’t leave out other minorities when discussing all women. In addition I felt they could’ve tackled issues like body image or said more on the issues they did mention. Oftentimes, it seemed like they placed a societal dilemma in front of you and left it at that. The problem with that is that many women know the issues we face because it's our daily life, but I wanted a new perspective, solution or boundary-pushing art that would scold our society. Throughout the museum I was left disappointed when I hoped for more of a message. The museum relied heavily on common tactics used in these types of picture-obsessed and interactive museums causing it to fall short to offer up anything new.

Mosqueda’s Perspective:

The Womanish art exhibit was very informative on topics that affect women, and the artists did a good job of providing education through creative art pieces. My favorite part of this art exhibit was “Tell Me to Smile and I’ll Scream” because of the overall message of the room and the yellow color scheme. The messages were very in-your-face, and they made sure that you would walk out of that art exhibit with some new knowledge. However, I wish that they would have included a piece on women in the education system. I think this should have been something that was highlighted because it is important to show the disparities between men and women in school systems world wide and show what the root of this inequality is. While it might not be extremely apparent in the United States, inequality in schools is definitely going on in other countries. The exhibit provided an educational experience to the public through an art medium, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to see the exhibit.