By LEIGH WILLIAMS
Artist Libby Rowe spoke to students and faculty on Wednesday, March 27, on her art and motivations.
While her presentation got off to a slow start due to technical difficulties, Rowe quickly recovered.
“When you stay up all night sewing up a pig to help a graduate student with her thesis you don’t think to charge your laptop,” Rowe said.
What the crowd lacked in number, they made up for in enthusiasm. As Rowe moved through descriptions of her provocative work, the crowd responded with laughs and understanding head nods.
Scarred by the general societal mentality about feminists in the 1980s, Rowe is reluctant to identify herself with the group, despite the fact that the stigma has since dissipated. A self-proclaimed “born-and-bred Iowan,” Rowe’s body of work, “pink,” challenges her modest upbringing and seeks to advance the conversation of prior feminists.
Due to the large number of pieces in the series, she has since grouped the works into sections: Anatomy and Sex, Psychology of Relationships and Fertility.
Within the section, “Anatomy and Sex,” Rowe described the process behind a particular piece called “language of love.” Composed of 26 black-and-white photos of women’s hands, the piece represents different methods of female masturbation.
“I love this piece because of its relationship to a language that actually exists,” Rowe said, referencing modern sign language. According to Rowe, common reactions to the piece range from disdain to appreciation. She explained that some women even try to find their own particular “letter.”
Rowe’s work seeks to extend further than female issues, however. In “Emasculation 101,” she re-interprets the childhood toy “Shrinky Dinks” to “Shrinky Dicks” in an attempt to convey the negative ramifications of poor communication in relationships.
The packaging, which would normally feature usage directions, instead warns of the dangers of emasculation, which are represented by the miniaturized male genitalia inside.
While all of Rowe’s pieces carry a strong personal element, “Womb Worries,” which rests in the “Fertility” section of “pink,” is especially poignant. Having experienced several miscarriages, Rowe has an intensely personal connection to the work.
Composed of many handmade sock monkeys, each carrying a different deformity, the piece functioned as an outlet for mourning and a means to express her anger.
Purchasing a sock monkey from the collection mimics the adoption process she went through with her very own daughter, whom she describes as her “biggest “pink” piece ever.”
Rowe’s art does not rest solely on walls, but reaches into the performance arena as well, inviting viewers to take an active part in the dialogue she seeks to advance. While still not completely comfortable with this aspect of her trade, like any innovator, Rowe continues to challenge the boundaries of work.
Despite any uneasiness her art may inspire, Rowe believes it is in such moments of uncertainty where the challenge of temporary discomfort can spark revolutionary change.