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Work by emerging female artists demonstrates power of mentoring program

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It takes remarkable self-assurance to call yourself an artist.

You know that any pay or recognition will likely be negligible or nonexistent, and it takes confidence to convince yourself that your ideas and your unique vision are worth sharing in the first place. You'd have to be half-crazy to ever act on that conviction.

Emerging women artists face these practical and psychological hurdles on top of the nonsense they're obliged to navigate already. There is entrenched misogyny in the art world, as there is everywhere else, especially in the higher-level commercial and institutional arenas, and our culture relishes any opportunity to belittle and undermine women's ambitions -- "frivolous" ambitions like artistic self-expression all the more so.

Responding to these circumstances, Mentoring Artists for Women's Art's flagship Foundation Mentorship Program pairs emerging female artists of varying ages with established peers in the local community, providing a year-long course of one-on-one guidance, support and critique. Countless friends, colleagues, students and other artists whose work I admire have participated at one point or another -- as mentees, mentors, or (in a testament to the program's lasting impact) both. The FMP is one of the Winnipeg art community's defining achievements, and the year-end showcase exhibition of participants' work isn't one to miss.

Photographers Janessa Brunet and Natasha Peterson both capture hushed, fleeting scenes of domestic life. In Brunet's informal portraits, her mother, aunt and grandmother take no notice of the camera, absorbed in private moments gardening or engaged in conversation. Peterson's images, while no less tranquil, evidence a subtle chill and slight remove that hint at more complex dynamics at work beneath the surface.

In her austere cityscapes, fellow photographer Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk draws parallels and contrasts between brittle-looking, frost-covered tree branches and the drab concrete of urban construction.

Gerry Oliver works across media to pay tribute to the American bison. In Death of a Monarch, a carefully drawn pile of bison skulls becomes a chaotic visual jumble, underscoring the enormity of what the animal's populations have endured, while Prairie Ghost is an eerie mask built from matted and felted wool and bison fibre.

Megan Krause transmutes her own interest in ecology and sustainability into densely layered images that meander between vocabularies of landscape painting and abstraction. Amanda Damsma's highly inventive work in print media, in turn, was inspired by an interest in hybridization, cross-pollination and the migration of people, plants and animals. For her work in the show, she cut and assembled coloured paper to construct whimsical, semi-botanical sculptures, which she photographed portrait-style to produce a series of sharp, lively silkscreen prints.

Sasha Amaya collaborates with contemporary dancers, experimenting with highly processed digital video to explore human movement, and Elise Dawson demonstrates perhaps the most wide-ranging approach, both in terms of both her interests and chosen media. Her four small, enigmatic works ricochet wildly among cerebral, sensual, comical and disturbing registers. Delicately rendered line drawings of cats, horses and smiling female nudes overlap dreamily in two prints; another shows what appears to be a blurry photograph of a small dog projected onto a pregnant woman's belly. The quietly alarming sculpture Exhale is a nightlight featuring the illuminated image of a hospital deathbed.

Beyond showcasing the impressive efforts of this year's eight mentees, the exhibition highlights the strength and supportiveness of Winnipeg's close-knit community of artists, which MAWA and initiatives like the Mentorship Program have been instrumental in helping to create.

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2013 C7

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