Conversations can be more than the verbal exchange of ideas. The Women In Trees exhibition at Penn State Abington is proof that a conversation can be had through art.
Associate professor of visual art Bonnie Levinthal and assistant professor of visual art Yvonne Love had the opportunity to artistically converse with Cuban artists through a collaborative project that seemed to allow them to engage in a shared experience despite language and cultural barriers.
“Through the art we were able to have a conversation and communicate with one another in a seamless way where typical, ordinary language was really an obstacle,” Levinthal said. “I felt that our communication was had through the art as it evolved.”
After participating in a faculty development program through Arcadia University in 2012, Levinthal and Love had met several artists on visits to Matanzas and Havana, Cuba. Through this experience, the women were inspired by the art and culture and began to think of ways they could jointly work with some of the artists they met.
“When we went to Cuba [in 2012], we were very inspired by their work and their general way of being,” Love said. “I found the Cuban culture to be very sensual, very passionate, intellectual, metaphorical and magical.
“We thought it was a natural fit to see if [some of the artists] wanted to work with us and they did.”
For more than a year, the artists worked on the pieces for the exhibition. In the United States, Levinthal and Love, along with fellow American artists Betsey Batchelor and Sarah McEneaney, each contributed to four sheets of paper they rotated among themselves. Similarly, Cuban artists Jacqueline and Yamilys Brito, Alicia Leal and Yasbel Perez did the same thing.
By the time Levinthal and Love made their second trip to Cuba in May of 2013, this time with two students in tow, they had four pages filled with the work of each American artist, Love explained.
In Cuba, the pages were exchanged and the artists continued adding their personal touches to each work. Levinthal said they worked hard to vary rotations of the pieces so that each artist had the opportunity to begin and end a piece.
During the trip, Penn State students Erica Lampe and Gillian Siegfried worked alongside Cuban students Salome Garcia and Yilian Marie to create their pieces.
All the artists that contributed to the exhibition were female, which was one of things that inspired the title Women In Trees.
“[The exhibition] is about women being connected to the earth, it’s about growth and regeneration, which is [communicated] differently in each piece,” Love said.
“The artist Alicia in each piece turned something into a tree,” Levinthal added. “She latched onto the metaphor, and it was really important for her to contribute that piece.”
The exhibition consists of eight collaborative pieces, two collaborative student pieces and four individual pieces created by the American artists, which was done so people could get a sense of who the American artists were individually.
The works are dynamic in their own way. Filled with texture, pattern and vibrant colors they are collages filled with distinct artistic voices, that seem to come together to form one harmonious sound.
Women In Trees has been on display in the Woodland Commons Gallery at Penn State Abington, located at 1600 Woodland Road, since Dec. 4 and will continue to show until Jan. 31.
“We all said the same thing, that finishing a piece was the best part,” Love said. “For me, that was just because I got to see what everyone else had done and got to respond to the conversation all at once. It was really enriching.”
Follow Jarreau Freeman on Twitter @JarreauFreeman.