Politits Art Coalition fights censorship with solidarity

Earlier this year, six women artists in Rochester formed a feminist art group, Politits Art Coalition.

Politits is a made-up word, but you can’t say it on the radio.

Earlier this year, six women artists in Rochester formed the Politits Art Coalition (PAC), a grassroots feminist art group. Jacquelyn O’Brien, PAC founder and Rochester-based sculptor, came up with the idea as a means to create solidarity within the feminist artistic community.

“What I felt like I missed most was what I read about in second-wave feminism,” she said. “And that’s a group of women entirely and intrinsically dependent on ourselves.”

Photo: Tina Star

The second wave of feminism began in the 1960s and focused on reproductive rights, sexual liberation and sisterhood. During this movement, consciousness-raising groups became popular, where groups of people would meet and discuss social justice issues they faced. These people aimed to raise awareness and voice agency to marginalized people.

With this in mind, O’Brien brainstormed and asked five other women if they’d be interested in forming a group with her. She said she was strategic when choosing the Politits team (they call each other ‘the tits’). Each member is from a different arts background and discipline.

Kristina Kaiser is the event and art residency director at The Yards Collaborative Art Space, and makes art with recycled material. Rebecca Lomuto is a photographer and printmaker. Lindsey Collier focuses on jewelry making, and works at the Dichotomy Commercial Arts Gallery with O’Brien. Melissa Huang concentrates on classical art, and is pursing a career as a curator and appraiser. The sixth member, Tina Starr is a performance artist and works as a labor and delivery photographer.

While the PAC artists have different styles and mediums, O’Brien said they all share one common sentiment:

“We are so tired of being talked over. We already live in a patriarchal society, but art is extremely male-dominated.”

According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 51 percent of visual artists today are women, but only 28 percent of museums’ solo exhibitions spotlight women artists. In forming PAC, O’Brien believed the group could be stronger together as a collective than individually.

Part of their goal is to submit pieces to exhibits together in order to “take over a gallery,” O’Brien said. They did this in July at Rochester Contemporary Art Center’s 6x6 exhibition, where each piece is 6 inches by 6 inches. All six members of PAC created four pieces of art each for the exhibit.

However the group said they’ve also experienced censorship and been excluded from galleries.

“Recently we tried to have a show somewhere, and we were all set to go and promised,” O’Brien said. “The curator pushed it back three times, and there’s another group in there [the gallery] now.”

After the curator pushed the show back a fourth time, PAC decided to have their first show together at The Yards, where five of the six members now have their own studios. Lindsey Collier said they’re not censored at the Yards like they are at other galleries.

“[The curator at the other gallery] likes feminine work, but he wants something pretty in a neat, little package with a bow on it,” she said. “He doesn’t want to see pubic hair, he wants to see lace – and the show he pushed us back for was lace.”

Even with the conflict, PAC still attended this show to support other women artists in Rochester.

“We don’t have this thing – that apparently exists – called girl hate,” O’Brien said. “We’ve seen the girl hate, but it’s built up through this system where men make women hate each other.”

One of PAC’s main tenets is to support all local women artists and their work.  Rebecca Lomuto said that’s one of the most important things to understand about the group.

“We’re not exceptional because we’re the only women doing this thing,” she said. “We’re part of a community of networks and we interact with, and we’re fluid with, other groups.”

While it has been challenging for women to even gain recognition in the arts industry, PAC members said it’s even more difficult for them to create spaces for feminist artwork. Even the name of their group, Politits, has been censored on the radio when the artists go on air for interviews, they said.

“People see a vagina and they say, ‘ew, that’s gross,’” O’Brien said. “You have this beautiful, life-creating vessel within you and the opening to that vessel is your vagina. This is something we’re taught to hate and find disgusting because it is of women. Unless our bodies are being used as sexual objects they’re not acceptable.

O’Brien said that while PAC is dedicated to solidarity and raising awareness to women’s issues, it’s also very important for each of them to be taken seriously.

“We’re trying really hard to be a serious group with quality art,” she said. “All of us value craftsmanship and we want our exhibits to be high quality.”

PAC meets every week at The Yards to work and discuss what their next show is, what they’re going to make, when is the next popup is and how they can curate an exhibit.

This Saturday Dec. 3, several Politits members will be selling holiday crafts at the Feminist Kill-Joy Trunk Show from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will be selling cunt cushions, pins, necklaces, broaches and other items at The Yards, located at the public market in Rochester.

Additionally, they are planning a show in February, which will incorporate emotional reactions to interpersonal relationships. In light of the presidential election, they said it’s important to address the darkness in their own lives.

“A huge part of our message is to be welcoming,” O’Brien said. “And even if you don’t agree with us, we still want you to sit with us.”

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