"Woke," artwork by April Sunami on display at The Columbus Cultural Arts Center. Credit: Ghezal Barghouty | Lantern Reporter

“Woke,” artwork by April Sunami on display at The Columbus Cultural Arts Center. Credit: Ghezal Barghouty | Lantern Reporter

The Cultural Arts Center in downtown Columbus’ newest exhibition features female artists with the aim of challenging gender issues and celebrating the voices of women.

“Dare to Be Heard,” which opened on Friday, brings together local and national artists to shed light on issues faced by women every day, ranging from harassment and rape to equal pay and health care.  

Stephanie Rond, the exhibition’s curator, teamed up with several sponsors, including the Ohio State Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise, to put together the exhibit.

“We focus on both students and artists who are really trying to understand how to sustain the work that they do,” said Sonia BasSheva Mañjon, director of the Barnett Center. “‘Dare to Be Heard,’ when it was presented to me as a possible sponsorship and collaboration, really resonated with my interest in, under certain populations, having a voice and actually being seen.”

“Dare to be Heard” was prompted by an anonymous note received by the Cultural Arts Center in response to a 2013 contemporary arts exhibition to celebrate the centennial of the New York Armory Show.

A visitor asked why no female work was represented on the exhibit’s 25-foot-long timeline of the past century’s major cultural events and the art movements they inspired.

“Dare to Be Heard” is the response to this question, as the Cultural Arts Center explores the exclusion of women from the art world.

The exhibition offers a variety of programs throughout the next month, including lectures, panel discussions, workshops, performing-arts events, film series and poetry performances.

“I want to start a dialogue, and I want to poke people and I want people to feel uncomfortable,” said Amy Leibrand, an OSU alumna and visual artist featured in the exhibit. “I want people to see themselves in my work. A lot of my work is self-portraiture, and it’s meant to poke people in places they don’t want it to.”

Leibrand said she did a lot of research on beauty standards and how much money women spend on their looks, from makeup and beauty products to plastic surgery procedures. She found that in the U.S. alone, it’s a $16 billion a year industry.

“The idea was to look into the history of the absolutely horrendous things that women would do to themselves for the sake of this arbitrary value of beauty that society puts on us,” Leibrand said.

April Sunami, a mixed media artist and Cincinnati native, is also featured in the show. She focuses much of her work on women of color and also pays tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement in her work.

Sunami said she was attracted to “Dare to Be Heard” because she was able to focus on more political subjects and issues she is passionate about.

“A lot of my work features black women, or women of color, as the subjects,” said Sunami. “Just trying to make sure that women of color are represented in a way that is strong, in a way that is beautiful, in a way that is complex and in an artistic context. That’s the primary objective.”

As part of the exhibits’ event series, the Barnett Center will be hosting a panel on Oct. 19 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The discussion will feature several local and national artists who have voiced their opinions on gender issues through art. Speakers will include Brooklyn-based photographer Nona Faustine; OSU alumna, poet and performing artist Dionne Custer Edwards; choreographer and OSU dance professor Susan Van Pelt Petry and Leibrand.  

“This will be a wonderful panel because of the diversity of the work that they do, not only locally, but nationally and internationally,” Mañjon said.

The “Dare to Be Heard” exhibition will be open to the public in the Cultural Arts Center at 139 W. Main St. and holding several other programs and workshops until Nov. 5. The event is free and students can RSVP at the Barnett Center website.