It is a campus-wide joke that half of the student body is from "just outside Boston." With such a large percentage of Bowdoinites hailing from suburbia, the most recent exhibit to appear in the Bowdoin College Museum of Art will make many students feel at home.
The exhibit, "Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl: Gender in the Suburbs," and the Gender and Women's Studies course of the same title, attempts to delve into the socioeconomic influences that the suburbs have had on American culture.
Professor of Gender and Women's Studies Jennifer Scanlon, who curated the exhibit along with Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Intern Diana Tuite and Curatorial Assistant Kacy Karlen, said she believes that this exhibit will shed new light on the way her students view suburban life.
"Many of our ideas about suburban life emerge from cultural representations (film, television, fiction, photography) even if our lived experiences tell us something different," she said. "The exhibit at the museum provides students one more way to engage with the meaning of the suburbs in the United States."
Some may find a certain emotional response evoked by these images. Photographs of domesticity, motherhood, and stereotypical gender roles give way to ones of protest, liberation, and modernization. This shift from the familiar to the uncomfortable defines the central message of the exhibit, as Professor Scanlon intended it to.
"The exhibit in some ways walks viewers through the progress from urban to suburban?at least through a few ways of looking at and thinking about that process," she said.
Some of the particularly haunting images on display are not those of turmoil (such as the photograph of a women's liberation rally during the 1960s) but instead those of eerily mundane family life. Elderly women putting groceries in their cars; a woman knitting while her husband reads to their baby; a high school football game. In an age where turbulence is the norm, it is these ideas and sentiments that seem out of place. The traditional roles of women in the home and men in the field are brought back in full force and contrast sharply with the modern works.
The latter body of work includes a Barbie doll having her breast removed with a knife and another of a toy house on top of woman's legs. The transition between these two eras is a mural sized series of prints bearing the message "We Will No Longer Be Seen and Not Heard." This serves as a fitting expression of frustration with traditional roles and ideas.
The class that corresponds with the photo exhibit also examines the historical importance of the suburbs and their influence on gender roles and ideology of America.
"Most of the nation's residents live in the suburbs, and most people have ideas about what the suburbs are about," said Scanlon, "but few of us have any historical basis for our ideas."
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the exhibit, however, is that it is completely controlled and facilitated by Scanlon as a part of the Becker Gallery. A new feature in the recently renovated museum, the Becker Gallery is entirely faculty-run and provides a venue for professors to integrate a new learning style into their classes.
"The museum is an enormous resource, one that allows us to think and experience learning across so many borders," said Scanlon. "Now that the museum has reopened and has space for shows like this one, we can reach additional levels of learning and sharing ideas."
The exhibit, which includes works by Barbara Kruger, Garry Winogrand, and Jo Spence, will be on display in the Becker Gallery in the art museum until March 2.