HERstory: Intertwining religion and spiritual feminism

By Becky Nguyen

Lining the walls in Murphy Gallery, Art @ the Y is presenting its newest exhibition, HERstory, at the University YMCA. The show is free and open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

HERstory, which is on view through April 10, seeks to engage issues of feminism, faith and cultural understanding through duplicated images of the Virgin Mary. Carolyn Jonauskas McCarrick, a MFA candidate in Sculpture, uses screen-printing as a way to disperse information and show the commonalities between religions and how it affects one’s culture. More of her work can be found on her website at cjmccarrick.com. The Daily Illini was able to talk with McCarrick about her work, the gallery and the upcoming closing reception for HERstory on April 9 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the Boneyard Arts Festival Reception.

The Daily Illini: How did you first get involved with creating art?

Carolyn Jonauskas McCarrick: I was always making art as a kid. I come from a family of makers; we make things. It feels good to make stuff … I was really lucky all of my schools had really great art programs to the point where I ended up going to college for art. I have a bachelor in Fine Arts, and I wanted to get my MFA, because I wanted to just keep going, investing and keep pushing myself to see where that could lead. So that’s why I’m here, getting a degree. I like making art. It’s satisfying. It’s hard. Those are good things you want in a job, right? It’s hard work, but it feels good in the end, so you kind of have a good cycle that gets you through it.

DI: Can you briefly talk about the title and story behind your work?

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CJM: It was kind of like a pun of HERstory and history, you know, regendering history. The work is investigating religious histories, religious idols and women in religion and in representation. Why only in the big three — I mean, Hinduism and Buddhism are a little different in the way that women are represented or are included in their faiths — but Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the big three, are a male-dominated space, both in the practice and in the dogma, as well as the hierarchy and the authorities. Why is that there? Why is it like that? And what does that do to the culture? Because religion is so steeped in the way society works and how cultures work. How does that affect how we view women and how women view themselves?

DI: What personally inspired you to do HERstory?

CJM: The idea for HERstory is both the continuation of my own practice. I do work with religion, most recently, bringing my own feminist ideas into it, as well, but the idea from HERstory came from some readings about spiritual feminism… I wanted to connect that to this work and kind of bring it up.

DI: Why did you choose the Virgin Mary as the main focus of HERstory?

CJM: HERstory, kind of referencing history and her story, like where did she go? The big icon, the Virgin Mary, who’s represented in the work kind of symbolizes one of the few remaining — the few identified — that’s still around, but yet she’s still stripped of all of her agency. Her story continues because of the story of Jesus. We don’t know much about what she did or who she was. Those sorts of things are completely stripped away in imagery and retelling. I wanted to kind of point to the collection of histories that stem into what informs how she became in religion — where she kind of comes from — and show the depth that religious history has that maybe has been lost to, I think, our detriment.

DI: Why did you choose to duplicate the images?

CJM: It’s screen printed. It’s from the same source, and a part of that was because of the time limit. I had to make work fast. And part of it was because it’s almost political. I found that when I was looking at the work, it looked like a propaganda poster lined-up in bright colors and white; graphic. It kind of starts to look political, which is something very present in what I’m trying to say.

DI: What’s one thing you want people to take away from HERstory?

CJM: I want people to come open and leave open. If I could make that so, that would be what I think I’d want. I try not to think dogmatically about my work … so I want people to maybe be open, to come to it and realize some things about the way that maybe their religion or other religions are and the way that they intersect and feed into the way we are as people and to be more open and to be more inclusive.

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