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The feminist voice: visiting artist talks Women’s Studio Workshop

October 29, 2021

Carrying suitcases of artists’ books published by the Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW) in New York, Erin Zona, the artistic director of WSW and an artist herself, arrived at Bowdoin on Tuesday to speak about her work.

In collaboration with Special Collections Education and Engagement Librarian Marieke Van Der Steenhoven, this workshop featured more than twenty WSW books from the College’s own Special Collection and Archives with the addition of archival materials brought by Erin Zona.

Though some of the exhibits were formatted in a familiar way to modern readers, most of WSW’s artists’ books explored the boundaries of publication and challenged the conventional concept of a book.

“An artists’ book is a work of art in which all the materials and parts exist within the realm of the book in the most traditional sense,” Zona said during her lecture. “But the artists are always breaking the rules around what a book can do or what is even a book. Some books that we publish are more like book objects or artist publications.”

From an accordion book that can be stretched out and unfolded, to a book woven out of paper  forming the shape of a basket, the format of these books varied widely. Differing techniques were also involved in the creation process of these books, including silkscreen, linocuts and papermaking.

Founded in 1974, WSW has supported ??over 600 artists in the studio through their residency and publishing programs. Aiming to create a safe space for artists who identify as women, including trans women and gender fluid and non-binary individuals, the studio encourages expressions of aesthetic ideas, personal stories or political and social commentary through the medium of books.

“We’re called the Women’s Studio Workshop, but we are a very queer and open space…We create a safe space for individuals to make their work outside of the other studio spaces that [center] cis[gender]-men and their experiences,” Zona said. “We are very interested in negotiations of power within the printmaking studio, growing knowledge, sharing knowledge and having generosity, trust and support at the center of our daily conversations.”

Professor of Art and Director of Visual Arts Division of the Department of Art Carrie Scanga supported Zona’s vision. Scanga, who used to work in the studio as a program director, enjoyed the organic, non-hierarchical community WSW fostered, which was centered around feminist values.

“Community was a daily devotional practice [there], a verb rather than a noun,” Scanga wrote in an email to The Orient. “A couple of concrete examples include a daily potluck lunch for all artists in residence, staff and any community members who might choose to join, or the way the directors and interns alike always rolled up their sleeves to print a big edition or clean a dirty sink side-by-side. ”

Scanga arranged a separate workshop with Zona for her Printmaking I class, hoping to expose her students to the multifaceted printmaking career beyond academia, including gallery work, publishing, museum, non-profit, library, industry and design jobs.

“Printmakers are a welcoming bunch. Students who seek out the printmaking community after college will find connections and inspiration in places like WSW,” Scanga said. “The diversity of these artists, in terms of their roles in the art world, personal motivations and the art they created expanded my understanding of the art world, which up until that point I had only experienced through a narrow academic lens.”


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