Womxnhouse Detroit: A Space for Female Artists to Collaborate and Create
Womxnhouse Detroit is special. I knew this even before my visit on the exhibition’s opening day. While some may see this project as just another art show, it is more like a book with beautiful visual chapters, or installations, that guide you through the unique perspectives of 14 diverse artists from Detroit. As I explored the space, I spoke with a few of the creators to gain insight into their work and also learn what makes the location a powerful resource for female artists.
A Space for Women to Create Freely
Womxnhouse Detroit is a new exhibition and artist residency that mirrors the groundbreaking feminist art project, Womanhouse, created in 1972 by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro. The exhibition contains 29 installations and is located in the childhood home of co-curator and Norwest Gallery owner Asia Hamilton. “I wanted to create a space in the neighborhood where people could experience art as I see it,” said Hamilton.
“When I was growing up I didn’t know any artists in the neighborhood and I kind of felt displaced because I didn’t have anybody to guide me in my creative and crazy ways. As a Black woman artist, I also wanted to provide a space for women of color, or women in general, to create freely. This was an opportunity to use a house that meant a lot to me to give to other people.”
Road signs in front of Womxnhouse Detroit. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
Art From Floor to Ceiling
One thing I loved most about Womxnhouse Detroit is that the entire home, including the front and backyard, is filled with art. From the moment you enter what was once a normal residence, you are introduced to one installation after another with each piece housing its own impactful meaning. With so much to see, it was great having a directory that lists the location, name, and details of each project.
Art in living room of Womxnhouse Detroit. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
Exhibition directory. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
Aging, Healing, and Resilience Are Welcome Here
I loved how the exhibit covered a nice variety of themes instead of having a single universal one. For example, The Apothecary – Home Medicines installation by Sabrina Nelson, was filled with the relaxing aromas of lavender and eucalyptus, medicinal books, and printed compliments that you could tear and take home.
“The Apothecary – Home Medicines” created by Sabrina Nelson. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
Herbs and remedies located in “The Apothecary – Home Medicines”. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
Inspirational tear-off flyers. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
Environmental artist Leslie Sobel‘s piece,I Am Still Here, explores the theme of aging as an artist while still creating art, connecting with the community, and maintaining visibility. “The pollinator plants around the base of the piece are very much about the idea that I’m still fruitful, still making things happen, and still part of the community. My face, the artist’s face, is peeking out from all of these constraints and bindings around it that represent age and social obligation. In one sense it’s a self-portrait because I’m still here – even if I’m at an age where many women have become invisible,” said Sobel.
“I’m Still Here” by Leslie Sobel. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
Artist Jessica DeMuro Graves explained how her installation, Womb, was designed to provide a sense of healing. “When I was first invited to participate in Womxnhouse simultaneously found out that I was pregnant. I wanted to create a space where I could experience what the baby was experiencing and return to that space of nurturing, love, warmth, and all of those things that many of us don’t remember because we are so far from the traumatic experience of birth,” said DeMuro Graves.
“Womb” space by Jessica DeMuro Graves. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
“About halfway through the planning process of the Womb space and Womxnhouse itself, I had a very devastating miscarriage. For a moment I was unsure if I could complete the installation because it may be too difficult, but after a few days I found that it didn’t change anything. This would still create a space for me to be close to the baby I had while creating that healing environment no matter which side of that coin you’re on.
Women experience miscarriages almost entirely in isolation it feels like. I started thinking about the intelligence of the womb and how incredible this organ really is as a space of creation, but also as a space of destruction. All of that is wrapped in this space that we have upstairs for people to immerse themselves in and experience.”
Jessica DeMuro Graves in entrance of “Womb” installation. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
Laura Earle, co-curator of Womxnhouse Detroit, partnered with various artists in the show to produce several works including one that is located in the living room of the home. “The Environmental Legacy piece was inspired by the experiences of my family members over the last two years,” said Earle. “With the increasing impact of global warming, my family has encountered flooding, a wildfire less than a mile from their home, and we had issues when COVID first began because rumors started all of this panic buying so we couldn’t get food.”
“Environment Legacy” by Laura Earle and Womxnhouse Detroit artists. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
“I also collaborated with Erin Gold on 72 Feathers and Olivia Guterson on a piece in the upstairs bedroom. Melanie Manos and I have a couple of pieces together including the one with a series of dildos on a shelf. These are three-dimensional representations of the wage gap between men and women in 29 countries around the world. When Melanie saw the shape of this bar graph she said ‘Oh my gosh it looks like a dildo, so you might as well enjoy yourself while you’re getting screwed.’ “
(Photo: The Creative Armory)
“We packaged them according to different kinds of jobs that women do and you’ll notice among them that there is one box that is completely empty. This is because people who are caregivers in the home don’t even get paid, so they get an empty box. All of this is sitting on a shelf in front of giant letters that say ‘2094’ because that is the year we will achieve parity if we continue to close the wage gap between men and women.”
“Economic Stimulus – The Dilgap Series.” (Photo: The Creative Armory)
“Earle’s last piece Reality Check uses a mirror cut in the shape of a barbie doll and etched in hot pink. It is positioned so that the viewer can see their own face in place of the doll’s face. “This is to show you that the marketing forces that be are trying to tell you what you should become, how you should look, and what beauty is. We need a reality check to recognize that this huge mechanism is operating to craft not only what’s out there, but what’s in our minds. This is a reminder to love yourself as you are.”
“Reality Check” by Laura Earle. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
The X Factor As a Female Artist
Aside from hosting in-house exhibitions, I love how Womxnhouse Detroit will provide a supportive environment for female artists to collaborate, create, and further develop the unique traits they each bring to the table.
“I know more about my own abilities from having worked alongside other women. I also curated a version of Womanhouse in 2018 and it was the first time I ever really isolated the aspect of femininity in art,” said Earle. “I worked with 25 artists to create a space that was very energizing, nurturing, and generally extremely supportive of other artists. That, to me, felt very different from what I would quote as masculine spaces. It just felt like a crucible for creation that had a real power and tenderness at the same time. ”
Gilded tags from the “72 Feathers” installation. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
“I think my special sauce is creating empathic experiences,” said DeMuro Graves. “When viewers are confronted with different pieces it reflects something that may be going on with them internally, so I’m hyper-vigilant about that when I create work. It’s always been that way whether you can walk into a womb, or lay underneath a huge hanging installation. That transference is unique to the artist. “
Advice for Up and Coming Female Artists
Before ending my visit to Womxnhouse Detroit, I asked the artists I spoke with to share one piece of advice with other women in the creative community.
“Be true to yourself,” said Earle. “Don’t try to make art that matches the drapes. Do something that really expresses who you are inside and reach out to other artists to collaborate and learn from each other.”
Memorial for loved ones lost to COVID. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
“Just keep going and speak from the heart. Allow people to experience your life through your work. That relatability is what really touches and captures the heart of the people – and that is what the work is really about,” advised Hamilton.
“I hadn’t had the opportunity to really dive into collaboration to the extent that I had with Womxnhouse,” said DeMuro Graves. “That goes beyond even just the Womb space itself, but just creating this entire space together with all of these artists. With that being said, I would remind others to take up space. You deserve to take up space. “
Exterior of Womxnhouse Detroit. (Photo: The Creative Armory)
As a female artist, I am proud to see this location open its doors and infuse more art into our community. I’m really looking forward to the projects that will be born from future collaborations within this space.
If you have yet to experience the incredible artwork at Womxnhouse Detroit, I strongly encourage you to plan a visit soon. The exhibition will be on display until Saturday, October 23rd.
By Jess McKenzie
Jess McKenzie is a brand identity designer from Detroit, MI. She is a self-proclaimed nerd that loves 80s movies and longs for Saturday morning cartoons to return. When she is not tied to her computer, she can be found taking random road trips and practicing landscape photography.