October 22, 2018

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'Feminist? Moi?'

Curator inspired by famous Muppet's pig-headed nature, assertive personality

Mary Reid says Miss Piggy was an early role model.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mary Reid says Miss Piggy was an early role model.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2015 (1094 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

She may be a puppet voiced by a man named Frank, but make no mistake: Miss Piggy is a feminist icon.

In June, Her Fabulousness was feted with a Sackler Center First Award from the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, joining the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and retired U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Gloria Steinem presented her with the award. "Moi is thrilled," Piggy was quoted as saying.

And why shouldn't Miss Piggy win a prestigious feminist award? Since making her debut in 1974, she has karate-chopped her way into the hearts and imaginations of generations of girls. She taught us the importance of loving our bodies just as they are. She taught us how to tune out any "smart de pants" commentary from haters. She taught us that there's no shame in embracing femininity in the form of big eyelashes and even bigger boas. She taught us how to be assertive and how to set boundaries.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2015 (1094 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

She may be a puppet voiced by a man named Frank, but make no mistake: Miss Piggy is a feminist icon.

In June, Her Fabulousness was feted with a Sackler Center First Award from the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, joining the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and retired U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Gloria Steinem presented her with the award. "Moi is thrilled," Piggy was quoted as saying.

And why shouldn't Miss Piggy win a prestigious feminist award? Since making her debut in 1974, she has karate-chopped her way into the hearts and imaginations of generations of girls. She taught us the importance of loving our bodies just as they are. She taught us how to tune out any "smart de pants" commentary from haters. She taught us that there's no shame in embracing femininity in the form of big eyelashes and even bigger boas. She taught us how to be assertive and how to set boundaries.

Most of all, Miss Piggy gave us the courage to be ourselves, without apology.

Mary Reid was one such girl who was inspired by Miss Piggy. The former curator of contemporary art and photography at Winnipeg Art Gallery and director/curator of the School of Art Gallery at the University of Manitoba returns to Winnipeg this weekend to deliver this year's Wendy Wersch Memorial Lecture, presented by MAWA (Mentoring Artists for Women's Art).

Titled Miss Piggy is My Heroine: Feminist Curatorial Practice and the Famous Porky Puppet, Reid will discuss her art career and the many extraordinary artists she's worked with using an easily accessible pop-culture hook. It promises to be a funny, personal talk.

When Reid, who is now the director/curator of the Woodstock Art Gallery in Woodstock, Ont., was asked by the Wendy Wersch Memorial Committee to speak about her curatorial practice — specifically its roots in feminism and how she became a feminist art curator — she jumped at such a rare and welcome opportunity to talk about her work, but she had some reservations.

"I was a little bit worried, to be honest with you, that it was going to be somewhat of a boring lecture — a chronological overview of the projects I'd done prior to coming to Winnipeg," she says with a laugh over the phone.

But then, inspiration hit. In June, Reid was in Chicago for her sister's wedding and she read about Miss Piggy's Sackler Center Award.

The Sackler Center is where Judy Chicago's famous work The Dinner Party — a mammoth mixed-media piece honouring 999 important women in Western civilization — is permanently displayed, and The Dinner Party is an important piece for Reid.

"When I usually start lectures around identity, gender or feminism, I use Judy Chicago's piece as an entry link."

When Reid thought about all the ways in which Miss Piggy influenced her, she was surprised at just how large the larger-than-life Muppet loomed in her life. Reid, who was born in 1972, grew up with Jim Henson's colourful characters, and Miss Piggy was an early role model.

"I got teased a lot as a child for being bossy — bossy Mary," she says. "I don't think I was bossy; I feel that I was appropriately assertive. But these weren't traits that were necessarily encouraged when I was a child growing up and certainly as a teenager, but it's something Piggy certainly identifies with. She's self-sufficient. She pushes boundaries.

"At the end of the day, she's a puppet, she's a caricature, she's a construction," Reid says. "But she also embodies important feminist attributes that we can poke fun at and laugh at, but that we can also seriously consider and can have an impact on how we move forward in the world."

Miss Piggy offers a unique entry point into feminist analysis and discussion.

"She's a levelling ground. It's popular culture. We can discuss feminist issues using her as this trope or example or even maybe a comfortable platform to push that through. She's an equalizer in many ways. It's not just young girls — it's everyone. She equalizes it out in a non-threatening manner because she's a puppet. You can't hate a puppet."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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