"I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman." — Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

She Unfolds Exhibition Essay

In She Unfolds, Alessandra Abballe and Sara Knelman explore women as readers and writers within and unhinged from literary traditions. Uncovered through forgotten histories, She Unfolds is a story of rediscovery. Perhaps most notably, the question of “how to read women”, is one that seeps through the exhibition, through images and in writing.

Abballe’s series, She is All But Absent From History, explores the structure of adventure narratives and how women, often excluded from these stories, claim space and agency. The work explores hegemonic notions of heroism and attempts to intervene in these notions through the exploration of female-driven narratives, both fictional and biographical, that challenge ideas of what heroism looks like and how it might take shape. As the eclipsed histories of these women are brought to the forefront, the viewer might begin to consider the ways in which women have, and continue to, create heroic space.

In Knelman’s found photography collection, Lady Readers, Knelman gathers mostly vernacular photographs of women reading, spanning decades and encompassing varied aesthetics and functions. Collectively, the images are foregrounded through the freedom of imagination—of the reader and of the viewer. We might ask “What is she reading?”, or perhaps, “What is she thinking?”. As one explores the imperceptible activity of the mind within the leisurely activity of reading, the act of reading is investigated and deciphered.

Together, these complementary collections reconsider the literary portrayal of women. While Abballe’s work explores the representation of women within literature, Knelman discusses the lady readers who complete the cycle of writing. Through writing and reading, the woman writer and reader is reestablished in this exhibition. No longer tethered to traditions, she unfolds her narrative.

Gathering Images

IMA alumna, Clea Christakos-Gee speaks with Alessandra Abballe and Sara Knelman about their creative processes and explorations in relation to their new exhibition, She Unfolds.

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