Guest Post: Sally Deskins On Body Prints, Feminism & Underrepresented Artists

"I Count" from "What Will Her Kids Think?" series, 2013-14

My body prints began after seeing Yves Klein’s Anthropometries series in Washington D.C. years back. As I had been involved with feminist art activism, I decided to create them with feminist intent, that is, as director, artist and model; but moreover, dedicate each one to an artist I had interviewed on my blog, Les Femmes Folles, of women in art. So, each body print of a different color, also included a quote or interview excerpt from a woman I had interviewed about gender, art, the body, etc. I scripted their quotes quite small so viewers had to look closely at them as they hung on a clothing line by clothespins. The result were these multi-colored abstract, expressive forms reminiscent of ink blot tests.

"Cookie Swimming" from "Art Time Mama" series, 2012-currently

From there I started to get responses and inquiries about my subject (nude, female form), process (making nude body prints) with regard to my role as a mother; what do my kids think? What do their friends think? When do you do the body prints? Do they see you? Aren’t art models prostitutes? Etc. Then I began doing more research on mother-artists, and so my next series, "What Will Her Kids Think?" reflected this theme with quotes from famous and nonfamous artists on motherhood, being a mother artist and the like. I used darker hues, and used pencil to repeat the quotes for a physical exercise to process the situation. I also added my "Art Time, Mama" series of collaborative drawings of the nude female figure on children’s coloring or watercolor pages I created with or alongside my children, exploring notions of gender, identity, the body, youth and mother roles.

So I’ve come to a place now, of acceptance for the nonbalance of it all, with a continuing physical practice of art and collaborations; such roles and queries can not and will not be resolved, but, like feminism, really come in unpredictable, wonderful and difficult waves.

"Mother Art (Tribute to Sally Mann)" from current series exploring gender, nature and tributes to feminist/women artists, 2015-currently

Through all of these, to further my knowledge on feminism and feminist artists, I studied and obtained a Masters in Art History, focusing on these topics, artists and curating. While reading books, essays and artist statements of women, feminist and underrepresented artists throughout the ages, I again not only recognized that my situation isn’t new, but the fact of my acknowledgement was also part of a cycle. My realization, recognition, research and tribute to my situation, then other artists, then my yearning to honor them, seems to also continue in unfortunate waves of loss to HIStory. Perhaps that is changing with the internet and an ongoing field of specialists in feminist art history, African American history and other experts focusing on underrepresented artists‘ histories. But as I read and learned about women artists even from the last couple of decades and their experiences outside of class, I realized that they, too, wanted and attempted to read up and acknowledge women and underrepresented artists before them.

"Masculine Feminine" from first series "Voice," 2012-13

The multi-cycles presented me with a reflective new series of work to honor these artists, while also recognizing the cycle of erasure, all the while attempting to remember their contributions. So with my latest series, Mother Artists (Tributes), I created body prints evoking a camouflage color theme including leaf prints, which could reflect several people silenced or lost to history—in art and beyond. Onto the prints, I script quotes from feminist and women artists from past and present about their work, intent or gender issues. I script the quote several times over and over in attempt to remember their names and contributions, to paint over and/or erase it when I’m finished. What is left is an erased effect, with some of the words and their names legible, but not quite. Though the titles hold onto the artist names, most of the text is lost in the image, reminiscent of the cycle of erasure not only potentially for the artist, but for my attempt to recognize them with my art.

As a white, middle-class artist I also recognize a privilege beyond minorities, with which I too actively contemplate during my process, and hope an intersectionality is addressed via my selection of artists honored and the various-hued and ambiguous shapes; body and skin is perhaps ironically irrelevant in its relevance for me with this series.

So, as I reflect on this series, and my Leaves of Absence work (book in collaboration with Laura Madeline Wiseman) on the body and nature, to exhibit next month at Union Hall Gallery in Pittsburgh, I hope that viewers might respond with a calming but also inspiring reflection to pay attention to the artists who aren’t shown in the major museums or written about in major texts, and, for those artists and/or mother artists, I hope even just one person can connect.

"Flowerets" from Leaves of Absence, 2016.


Sally Deskins is exhibiting alongside Nugent Kos and Leslie C. Sotomayor in Environs, at The Union Hall Gallery in Pittsburgh, opening Oct. 6 with a reception from 6-8pm, closing November 30. The Union Hall Gallery is located above Bar Marco in the Strip District at 2216 Penn Ave. The artists explore their natural environments via abstract mixed media.

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Self-portrait with art by Michele Pred, 2015

Sally Deskins is an artist, writer and curator with a focus on the perspectives of women and feminist artists. She has curated many group exhibitions and published writing in Hyperallergic, Feminist Wire, Bitch Magazine, among others. Her art has been shown nationally and published internationally. She created art for Intimates and Fools (poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman, 2014) which won the Nebraska Honor Award for illustration and design; and Leaves of Absence (poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman, 2016, Red Dashboard Books). You can visit her site here.