On Dec. 13, the DePaul Women’s Network hosted “Image/ing Gender: A Collaborative Social Art Event.” DWN Communications Team Member Laura Durnell recaps and reflects upon what participating in the event meant to her.
In the months before I became a part of the DePaul Women’s Network as a Communications Team Member, I had the opportunity to see and hear from St. Vincent de Paul Professor Bibiana Suárez at DWN’s January 2013 event, “Life on the Academic Ladder.” Professor Suárez fascinated and inspired me in my roles as a literary artist who graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an MFA in Writing, an adjunct in DePaul’s Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse Department and Wilbur Wright College’s English department, and an exhausted and frazzled new mother. Her accomplishments while balancing her own art, the responsibilities of a tenured art professor and motherhood encouraged me.
When I learned of “Image/ing Gender” toward the end of fall quarter 2013, I immediately registered. Not only was the amazing Professor Suárez leading the event, but I was eager to collaborate and network with DePaul’s other intelligent and “fierce” women where we would learn more about art, race, gender and ourselves. However, the word in the event’s description that most attracted me was “fun.” After an autumn term traveling between DePaul and Wilbur Wright College while working on my own writing and raising a spirited three-year-old, “fun” was what I needed to refill my well.
When I arrived, the sound of Puerto Rican music behind the drawing room’s door greeted me. After I knocked, Professor Suárez enthusiastically welcomed me into the room while she finalized the event’s preparations. Just as during her “Life on the Academic Ladder” speech, Professor Suárez made feel comfortable. Soon other participants arrived, and we shared our stories and thoughts while enjoying fruit, cheese and hot apple cider.
Shortly after 5 p.m., DWN member, event organizer and participant Gwenyth Bailey Knorr introduced Professor Suárez. After Gwen presented Professor Suárez’s artistic and academic accomplishments, Professor Suárez humbly dismissed them by saying she just likes to keep herself busy. Next, Professor Suárez had us introduce ourselves (and managed to remember everyone’s name throughout the event!) before turning her introduction to art’s creation and purpose. She said art is more than entertainment and enjoyment and can address and criticize society, politics, religion, gender, and race through form and style. She then showed examples from her own work, “Memoria/Memory,” and the work of other nationally recognized artists where images and stereotypes from history are manipulated to convey a critical viewpoint regarding race, ethnicity and gender.
After her lecture, Professor Suárez distributed a handout explaining the event’s collaborative activity along with a glossary of drawing concepts (helpful since some of us had little to no visual artistic training). I collaborated with Gwen and my friend and fellow WRD lecturer Salli Berg Seeley. Each of us selected prompts from Professor Suárez’s index cards, and based on those prompts, we drew our art onto a sheet of craft paper taped to the wall using the supplied charcoal, ebony pencils, Nupastels and kneaded erasers. At certain points, Professor Suárez offered everyone helpful advice on how we could make our drawings more uniform and create a visual “essay.”
During our collaboration, Salli, Gwen and I not only talked about our piece but also shared our thoughts on gender, race, society, motherhood, our respective generations (I was the sole Gen Xer) and our own lives. When everyone finished their group’s piece, we gathered to discuss and critique each group’s work. The first group chosen to present was my group.
Professor Suárez guided everyone on how to look at drawings from an artistic perspective and showed us how to view pieces up close and from a distance in order to determine a work’s style and “essay.” As our presentation and the other groups’ feedback commenced, Professor Suárez led the participants toward the work of a notable Dutch-born American artist, Willem de Kooning. She said his work “The Women Series” reminded her of our piece. After I arrived home later that evening and put my daughter to bed, I looked up de Kooning’s series on Google and was shocked and humbled to find how Gwen’s, Salli’s and my collaboration seemed inspired by this American master. When Professor Suárez saw something notable in my group’s beginning art work, it further clarified to me why she is a St. Vincent de Paul Professor. I felt not only encouraged, supported and nurtured but also validated.
Consequently, after a hectic academic term, “Image/ing Gender” refreshed and educated me. It also left me with a deeper sense of connection to and support from DePaul’s women faculty and staff. “Image/ing Gender” made me grateful not only to be a member of the DePaul Women’s Network but also to know that DWN exists for DePaul’s women. Most importantly though, I had fun.
Laura Durnell is a member of DWN’s Communications team and is an adjunct in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse Department at DePaul University.