A collection of 56 works on paper, NUT is a showcase of the empowering ways in which female artists have channeled their emotions and experiences into the works that make up the publication, curated by painter and co-founder of Maw Gallery in New York Liza Lacroix and the artist Alli Melanson. With all of the sale proceeds going towards the Global Fund for Women whose mission is to “find, fund, and amplify the courageous work of women who are building social movements and challenging the status quo”, Liza and Alli hope that NUT will uplift, empower and raise the voices of female artists while contributing towards alleviating the adversity women so frequently face today, in both the art world and beyond.
Your intention behind NUT was to 'harness personal traumas into positive outcomes as a process of healing and renewal.' What initially inspired you to come together to make the publication happen?
Liza: We’re very close friends and so we are constantly in conversation. Around a year ago, we were both going through the aftermath of traumatic relationships and just through that expression of supporting one another, we decided to turn our negative experiences into something positive. I think both of us feel really empowered in connecting with other female artists and believe in strength in numbers, so it was kind of a means of us to take something bad and turn it into something good.
Ali: In our case, it definitely came from a personal place and from indirect personal experiences but it’s taken on a wider scope in that even just through conversations, people have been able to open up to us about their difficulties and their struggles. It’s much less about our experiences, it’s more about connecting with women and coming together. There are a lot of forms of adversity that women still face today and NUT isn’t so much about focusing on the negative, but more about how we can move forward into the future.
In which ways did you feel the production of the book allowed a process of healing and renewal to begin?
Liza: Personally, the process of making this book has made me move from competing with other women and viewing them as the enemy to come to want to support them and see them as allies. I feel like I’ve been able to use the book as a healing process in this way.
Which emotions collectively fuelled the project for both of you?
Alli: It came from a place of recovering from hardships. Looking through the book, there’s definitely a lightness that runs throughout the work which I think is interesting. In spite of adversity, it still manages to be funny, light, uplifting and filled with love and I think that was maybe a surprise to us. It wasn’t something we imposed or thought of going into it, but it’s definitely really shining through and that’s one of my favorite aspects of looking through it.
Liza: I think strength is another big one. Both Alli and I have realized that we had to be really strong to come to terms with a lot of things, to make this book and be honest about where it was coming from because it’s not really an easy thing to talk about. A lot of the artists in the book are very strong women which you can see the pieces. Strength comes through.
Why did you name the publication NUT?
Alli: Nut is one of the major mother figures within Egyptian mythology who I first came across while looking through the late artist Nancy Spero's work because she’s a figure she used repeatedly. She’s a mother but she’s also a protector and she symbolizes the sky, over arching and protecting the earth. That was an image that rang true for us - overarching, nurturing, loving and protecting.
How did you source each of the artists featured?
Liza: Originally, the artists we found were those we’d been following for a years whose work we enjoy, or people who are apart of our network, who've exhibited at MAW Galley, or are friends of ours. The more we paid attention to female artists works on paper it just snowballed. We were really surprised at who we were able to contact, how easy it was and how open everyone was to participate. I’ve been a really big fan of some of the artists in the book and I never dreamt I’d ever be able to even have a conversation with them, so that was really exciting.
There are a lot of forms of adversity that women still face today and NUT isn’t so much about focusing on the negative, but more about how we can move forward into the future.
Was it easy for everyone involved to share their experiences?
Ali: I think the overall response has been very positive and enthusiastic.
Liza: Everyone I’ve had the chance to speak to in person, when they’ve either dropped their work off for the group show or I've ran into them in the city, whenever we go more in to detail about the project and where it stems from, it’s been so surprising to see how a lot of other women have gone through very similar things and are very open to talk about it. I never thought that would be the situation.
Why did you decide to dedicate the first issue to the late artist Ana Mendieta?
Alli: For us, Ana’s story really represents the embodiment of female struggle; her genius undersold, her life cut short and her justice withheld. We’re huge fans of her work and we find it really unfortunate that we still have to tell people who she is. The tragedy of her life and her early death and all of the series around how she died just really rings true of the injustices towards women that still happen today.
What do you hope NUT will inspire in each viewer?
Ali: We wanted to avoid being too concept heavy or message heavy, so it’s really just a collection of really great work that happen to be by all women. Within the context of the work in the book, we actually didn’t impose any kind of theme. We really just wanted it to be a celebration of work being made by women. So the motivation is more based on personal circumstances but we didn’t necessarily want that to be the tone of the book.
Liza: I hope people discover new artists that they weren’t aware of before, which is what happened to us. There are a lot of really great women making really great work and everyone should be aware of them.
Who are some of your female icons?
Liza: There are so many! Louise Bourgeoise, Agnes Martin. We actually went to the New Museum recently and right now, the entire museum is full of solo shows which was just amazing to see. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye paintings are phenomenal, Kaari Upson's work is incredible. The list of really strong women artists goes on and on.
Alli: I think we’re fortunate and lucky enough to get a couple of our heroes in the book as well. Women like Betty Tompkins, a huge figurehead in the female artist community. Another one for us was Chloe Piene who we have been huge fans of since art school and we actually bonded over her years ago. She’s someone who always felt out of reach but surprisingly, she’s been really great and super supportive of the book so that’s been a treat for us as well.
What have you learnt from the making of NUT?
Alli: I’d say that it’s been kind of a solidification of the facts that there are still hurdles to be faced but there’s a lot of optimism and I think learning about a lot of different contributors work and careers has to me at least been very inspiring. It’s very hard work but it does pay off.
Liza: I think having projects and books that only feature women are very necessary because we’re still at a place within the art world where we are defined by our gender, where people will say 'oh, she’s a female painter’ and not just a painter. It’s said all the time whereas I don’t define a male painter as a male painter, they’re just a painter. Until that changes, these types of projects are necessary. That was definitely a realization.
What are some changes you hope to inspire?
Alli: I think that we just want to be part of the conversation and moving it forward. It’s not something that will change overnight but there is reason to be optimistic and a responsibility to stay engaged and stay active. That's what this project is about and it translates into our personal practices as well.
Liza: I’d also hope it inspires people to want to give back. At Maw Gallery, I've always encouraged people to do projects that give to charity and for those in a position to help to do so. We’re very fortunate - we’re supported as artists and so I feel it’s our responsibility to give back to others which is why we decided that all of the proceeds from NUT will be donated to the Global Women’s Fund.
Alli: We chose the Global Fund because we thought it was a nice balance between a wide reaching organization that focuses on local communities and women who are doing work within their social groups already. That’s what we’re trying to do - extend, but also affect change locally.
You can purchase NUT in store at Maw Gallery in New York or online here.