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"That Girl!": Feminism has a new face

By Maya Kroth

Housed in a cozy gallery in downtown Oakland, "That Girl!" showcases the work of the Bay Area's finest up-and-coming female artists. Works by Lisa Solomon, Jungsun Kim, Stella Lai, and Simone Shubuck and Katherine Aoki adorn the walls of Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery in a show that proves that feminism has truly come a long way, baby.

Upon entering the gallery, it's difficult not to notice Lisa Solomon's twin "Untitled" pieces, which feature children's dresses suspended in midair. The dresses have been dipped in beeswax and shaped them into three dimensions -- almost as though the child inside has just disappeared. Solomon has long been fascinated with textiles, but these specific pieces have a deeper significance as they comment on the way society impresses ideas of gender identity on children at a very young age. Also dealing with the issue of gender and clothing is New Yorker Simone Shubuck, whose suitcase-like pieces open up to reveal items of women's clothing constructed, oddly, from food products. Shubuck's technique in pieces like "Prosciutto Pants", "Green Tomato Thong", and "Red Tomato Lingerie" is artistically fascinating for the level of difficulty involved in working with material as delicate as dried tomato slices and melted chocolate. But Shubuck's lingerie pieces also make an interesting comment about the definition of female sexiness, especially as it relates to the often-dysfunctional relationship that women have to food.

Hong Kong-based Stella Lai's pencil-and-acrylic drawings depict the imaginary world populated by her characters -- Peeto, Puchaa, and Cheche -- three little girls wearing giant masks designed to make each look like a cat, a bunny, a bear. The drawing "No Photo Please" finds one of these characters in her underwear, having tossed her mask aside, but her face is blurred out in the same manner as the mugs of criminals on "Cops." Lai's work is among the most visually interesting of this show and is rife with themes of female sexuality and masquerade. Korean artist Jungsun Kim also presents an interesting perspective on femininity in her aptly-titled "She", comprised of several photo transfer on graphite drawings which, upon closer examination, bear the visage of Korean actress Sooyoen Kang. The images work like a hologram, changing or disappearing completely in the surrounding sea of black depending on the angle at which light hits the piece. Kim aims to comment on the view of the Asian woman as outwardly silent but inwardly strong, but her work also conveys the message that all women are multi-faceted, our nuanced character transformed by even the subtlest shift in perspective.

Local artist Katherine Aoki's large-format linoleum prints are funny, colorful, and straightforward both in presentation and in theme. Using Japanese anime as a stylistic jumping off point, Aoki creates a parallel universe populated entirely by female construction workers operating tractors and excavators decorated in an ultra-girly flowers-and-hearts motif. At first glance, Aoki's workers are the highest paragons of girl power: deconstructing the female gender role and subverting the established order. But upon closer inspection, their newfound power is used to absurd ends as they construct ridiculous monuments to girly symbols like the platform sandal. Prints like these betray Aoki's belief that this new "girl power" perpetuated by the media actually does very little to further women's place in the world.

"That Girl!" is an artistic breath of fresh air; it's one of those rare all-female exhibitions that doesn't shove party line feminist rhetoric down your throat. Each artist deals with the issue of gender in her own way, each refracting a different beam of light, or thought, through the prism of feminism. The result is a show that is thoroughly engaging, never repetitive, and guaranteed to keep you ruminating on the topic for days afterward.

"That Girl!" runs through December 22, at Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery (NOW CLOSED), 942 Clay St., Oakland, CA 94607. Gallery Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 10:30 am - 6:00 pm; admission is free. For more info, call: 510.625.1350.