Focusing on feminine spirit and strength, a new art exhibit titled “Fem-Fusion: Visual Art + the Written Word” had its grand opening on Saturday at the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania’s Art Center.
With art and written works of various types on display, the walls of the gallery were adorned with the work of 14 Centre County women. Poems, paintings, essays, tattoos, photographs and more occupied the space.
Following the opening, a spoken word event was held later Saturday evening, highlighting several of the writers featured in the exhibit, as well as its origins.
Co-organizers of the exhibit Stacie Bird and Nicole Miyashiro united in 2019 to discuss a potential collaboration. Volleying ideas back and forth over cups of coffee, the pair reached a decision that would eventually evolve into the current exhibit.
The final concept of Fem-Fusion was to pair artists and writers to create pieces inspired by each other’s work. The artists and writers would hand over a piece of their own work and then create something entirely new based on the original piece they were given.
Bird, vice president of the Art Alliance and a Penn State alumna, said she was first introduced to Miyashiro during an exhibit she curated, and the two sporadically met again through various events. A 1985 graduate with a degree in film, Bird said she felt a connection to Miyashiro and her poetry, which eventually led her to approach Miyashiro and propose a collaboration.
“I ran into her a couple more times after that, and I finally said, ‘You know, I’ve got this feeling we’re supposed to do something together,’” Bird said.
Miyashiro, the writer-in-residence for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, said when Fem-Fusion came to fruition, she was tasked with inviting the writers, and Bird was tasked with finding the artists.
The decision to center the exhibit around female experiences and expression was almost always a natural part of the process, according to Bird.
“I didn’t really think of it as a female thing to begin with,” Bird said. “I don’t think we ever really considered asking men to participate in it… I really wanted this to be women collaborating and supporting each other and coming up with completely new things.”
“We were in alignment,” Miyashiro said. “We didn’t have too much of a long conversation about the ‘fem’ part… My focus has been more toward those themes.”
Originally planned to show in June 2020, Bird and Miyashiro had to quickly step on the brakes during the coronavirus pandemic. The artists and writers involved turned to Zoom to continue their work, according to Bird.
A year later, the exhibit was finally rescheduled and is now on full display for Centre County to witness. Bird said being able to finally see the artists’ and writers’ works together for the first time has been almost overwhelming.
“I really didn’t know how it was going to work until I started receiving the pieces, and I just sat here and cried,” Bird said. “When you look at the works by themselves, they are wonderful pieces of writing and artwork, but when you put them together, they’ll just blow you away.”
Jordan Haines, a tattoo artist and founding member of the Paper Moon Tattoo Company in State College, is one of the featured artists in the exhibit. Her displayed work features drawings she made in response to Miyashiro’s poetry, as well as a photograph of a tattoo she drew.
Haines said the experience of being able to create art inspired by someone else’s work was phenomenal.
“Working with Nicole almost felt like a blessing,” Haines said. “Our creativity and visions complimented each other instantly. Reading her work, there were moments that I recognized and related to that I try to pinpoint in my own fine art and also in relation to tattooing.”
Hearing about the exhibit through Abby Minor, a friend and featured artist in the exhibit, Nicole Gargiulo said being able to see the work created by women was wonderful at the opening event.
“After the bleakness of the last year, to come back into a space that’s celebrating color, image, written word, feminine art and creativity — it’s just nice to be in this energy,” Gargiulo said.
Saturday was Juliette Hawkins’s first time in the Art Alliance’s building, and she said the space and featured artwork were positive experiences.
“I love the idea of the inter-art collaboration and the fact that they were inspired by each other and responding to each other,” Hawkins (doctorate-literature) said. “Each one of them had a piece that was complete and a response.”
Hawkins said attending the opening of the exhibit was the first time she attended a group event since the pandemic began.
The exhibit in the art center, which is located in Lemont just outside of State College, will open again to the public on June 12 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and June 13 from noon-4 p.m. Masks are required inside.
In addition to the exhibit, Bird and Miyashiro created a virtual exhibit book for those who are not able to be there in person. The virtual option can be found on the Art Alliance’s website.
Bird said those who are planning to attend the exhibit should prepare themselves and keep an open mind for what to expect.
“Art is good for your soul — good art and good exhibits make you think about things you didn’t expect to think about,” Bird said. “In the case of Fem-Fusion, look at what women can do when we collaborate… Be prepared to have your mind blown.”
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