"Terrific, engaging and moving documentary about the ongoing conundrum of women in the arts today."
“Who does she think she is?” is a refrain constantly heard in conjunction with women in the arts, something this documentary addresses in a fashion that is both moving and feminist in the best possible sense. The focus is upon five artists working in different mediums in different parts of the United States, who have all struggled to find the time and necessary support while raising families to pursue their bliss, but their individual stories bring up certain larger, even global concerns.
Janis Wunderlich, a Mormon mother of five, balances raising kids with creating her bold sculptures, expressive of her harried domestic life. Her work is so in-your-face as to be considered butt-ugly by some, with a daughter expressing a wish that it were less graphic, especially when her friends come over and see all these emerging fetuses around the house. Wunderlich lives sequestered in Columbus, Ohio, far away from the metropolitan centers of artistic commerce, with the occasional show her one opportunity to really reassess work that is always done in a rush, often for fear of household breakage.
Camille Musser lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two children, but her work reflects her upbringing in the Caribbean. Angela Williams is an aspiring actress, with two daughters, whose ambitions have destroyed her marriage. Mayumi Oda celebrates the goddess that exists both in history and, as she says, in every woman and, after an active life as an artist and political activist against Japanese nuclear involvement, has retreated to an idyllic ranch in Hawaii, where she trains other women in living off the land and finding inner fulfillment. Mae Torres is a long-time Taos resident who has brought her heartbreakingly supportive children right into her studio to work alongside her, in a life which may lack certain material niceties, but seems gratifying to all.
Having to choose between family and career is an age-old conundrum and bitter divorces have affected both Williams and, especially, Torres, whose difficult legal experiences over child custody have shown her this country’s basic lack of support for artists, especially female ones. The art world itself appears to echo this, with appalling statistics cited of the low percentage of women artists represented in museums and galleries. Although females make up 80% of students enrolled at an institution like New York’s School of Visual Arts, the ones who make successful careers are rare in this still white male-dominated world. (The Guerrilla Girls, an activist group which continually exposes this inequity, are interviewed as well in Who Does She Think She Is?)
Making a further case for the diminished status of women in the arts and, indeed, in the world itself, various academics also voice the demise of ancient goddess culture, which occurred with the rise of Western civilization and Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions. There’s a case to be made, one says, for the support of women in the arts, as well as the improved status of women in general, as the quality of life improves thusly, far more than with any superior Gross Domestic Product.
There’s gladsome hope to be had, however, for female artists finally reaching more people through the Internet and, indeed, through this very worthy, rewarding film itself.
This article was originally published on Film Journal International: