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By Sharmin Shanur

Women have been silenced for many years. From the inability to vote to the incapability to make reproductive choices, as recently showcased by Trump’s anti-abortion policies, it seems as if a woman’s life, in both the past and present, is constantly molded by others. Women all around the world are standing up against these injustices and marching for their rights. Last week hundreds of thousands of women around the world marched against these injustices. In solidarity with the Women’s Marches that took place all around the world, ASUCI’s Art Lab featured their exhibit titled “Empowering Women Through Art” at the Cross-Cultural Center on January 24. The exhibit gave women a voice that they might not have on campus and encouraged them to forge their own identities. The Art Lab featured all types of artwork: poetry, photography and paintings were hung from clotheslines all around the room. Clotheslines are typically associated with the stereotypically female chore of laundry, so by hanging art-pieces that persistently called for female liberation, the Art Lab used the irony of the clothesline to show that women are not bound by constricting social customs. Rather, they are capable of using traditional images of themselves to forge identities far different than the status quo.

One artwork that clearly stood out from the rest was the collection of silhouettes of various progressive women, such as Ellen Degeneres and Frida Kahlo, and the artist herself, Drei Nguyen, a fifth year student at UCI. Nguyen made these silhouettes to not only celebrate women, but also to celebrate herself. Nguyen said, “By celebrating myself I am encouraging others to celebrate themselves. I believe the most empowering thing you can do is to be proud of yourself and your achievements… life is a struggle so every little victory counts.”
Later on at the event, the Art Lab hosted a live musical performance starring Ellen Shieh, a third year Cognitive Science major, who sang Alicia Key’s “If I Ain’t Got You.”

“[Alicia Keys is] the definition of women empowerment,” said Shieh as she explained to the audience why she chose to sing to Alicia Keys. “And [she] is a good reminder that you don’t have to wear makeup to be beautiful.”
Shieh believes that women like Alicia Keys are paving the way for women to be unapologetically their authentic selves. Aside from her insight, Shieh is also a wonderful singer. Her mellifluous voice completely calmed the room and called for attention. It is no wonder she was the winner of UCI’s Soulstice, last year. For Shieh, using her voice is a way of calling Asian women to speak up. She hopes that by singing she can represent Asian women in the media, in which they are considered minorities.

Aside from the artwork, ASUCI featured many zines that brought to light various political issues that affect all minorities. Some zines dealt with domestic abuse, while others criticized the cookie-cutter images of the fashion industry. One particular zine titled “La Migra,” Spanish for “immigration” but widely used to describe Immigration Customs Enforcement, reacted to the growing racism against Hispanic immigrants in America. Page after page, this zine recalled the laborious lives of Mexican immigrants and how they struggle every day to create a decent life for their children. It also talks about the tragedies militarized borders have on families and the harmful effects being indefinitely separated has on a family dynamics. All of the zines at this exhibit were a reminder for people of all backgrounds to have an open and accepting heart for each other. It was a way to articulate inequality in terms that everyone could understand.

By featuring art by women of all identities and backgrounds, ASUCI’s Art Lab provided an avenue for unhindered expression. The “Empowering Women Through Art” exhibit was one the many ways, aside from their spoken word, music events and art internships, the Art Lab seeks to give people a voice through creative mediums.

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