By Nicole Mitchell
Kansas City’s Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is opening its newest art exhibit this month: the Women to Watch exhibition (Women to Watch—A New World: 2024). The series has been held every few years and invites women artists from across the country to respond to a theme picked by Washington, D.C.-based organization National Museum of Women Artists (NMWA) curators. Kemper participated most recently in the series in 2019 with Paper Routes—Women to Watch 2020. This exhibition will be the seventh total installment of the Women to Watch series.
The theme for this year’s exhibition was inspired by the events of 2020, including a global health pandemic, intense calls for social reform, and political division. Artists across the U.S. used this as inspiration to express visions of a new world.
This year, Kemper’s presentation of Women to Watch—A New World: 2024 features five local artists Mona Cliff/HanukGahNé (Spotted Cloud) (Aaniiih, born 1977), Bianca Fields (American, born 1995), Bev Gegen (American, born 1937), Melanie Johnson (American, born 1978), and Sun Young Park (South Korean, born 1990). The presentation was juried by Kemper Museum Director of Curatorial Affairs Erin Dziedzic and presented in cooperation with the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the NMWA.
Artist Park is a ceramicist originally from South Korea. She has her MFA and BFA from there; however, after completing a residency in Korea she realized that there were some limitations to her art in the country. “I mainly use clay, but then I only knew how to do that,” she explained. “I wanted to expand my knowledge of using other materials.” Park was able to move the US in 2018, where she completed another MFA and took that opportunity to explore both 2D and 3D mixed media.
She found out about the exhibition through Kemper’s open call that was posted on the museum’s website. Park thought, “It sounds like I’m perfectly fit for that exhibition.” Not surprisingly, she was accepted. She will have three or four pieces in the exhibition. As for her inspiration for each piece—Park looks inward towards her memories.
“I’m very excited to show my work there and meeting all the other artists who will be in the show with me,” Park said. “The age range is intriguing to me. We’re all from different cultures and backgrounds too. It’ll be fun.”
Cliff—known as Spotted Cloud on Instagram—is a visual artist who focuses on seedbead and fabric applique. “These techniques I’ve used in traditional Native American regalia crafting mostly to create items for uses in social gatherings and ceremonial uses,” she described her work. “These material techniques I use now to create contemporary visual art. I want to bring parts of my culture to the forefront of my practice.”
Like Park, Cliff found the opportunity through Kemper’s open call. “I was a bit apprehensive but thought, ‘Why not? The worst is you can be denied.’ It was good to get an acceptance email.” Before taking on this exhibition, Cliff had just completed a commission for the Kansas City museum. “My work is labor intensive, and coming out of a recent commission from the Kansas City museum, which took me six months to create, this recent piece I created in a month and a half,” she said. “I am building off the work I did for the commission; however, this piece that was chosen has taken on a more organic narrative.”
Cliff’s work, titled “Conjured Topography,” was created using layers of beeswax, alongside Cliff’s beading. “I built the layers and ridges of beeswax, which holds the beads. In doing so, memories and experiences flowed into my work,” she explained. “I didn’t have an idea of where the piece ended… Only allowed for it to speak for itself.”
Artists accepted to participate in Kemper’s exhibition will have the opportunity to be selected by NMWA curators for the national Women to Watch exhibition in 2024. Jurors include Kemper’s Director of Curatorial Affairs Erin Dziedzic and presented in cooperation with the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the NMWA.
The exhibit can be viewed at Kemper from June 24 to October 16, 2022. Visit the museum’s website to learn more.
Nicole Mitchell (she/they) is a writer and social media manager who graduated December 2020 with a degree in strategic communication. A few of her favorite things include cuddling with cats, listening to Bon Iver, making lattes, and running her book club (even though sometimes she forgets to read the books.)