Focusing on the female spirit and strength, a new art exhibit titled “Fem-Fusion: Visual Art + the Written Word” had its grand opening Saturday at the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania’s Art Center.
With artwork and writings of various types on display, the gallery walls were adorned with the work of 14 Center County women. Poems, paintings, essays, tattoos, photographs and more occupied the space.
After the opening, a spoken word event took place later Saturday evening, highlighting several of the writers featured in the exhibit, as well as their origins.
Exhibition co-organizers Stacie Bird and Nicole Miyashiro came together in 2019 to discuss a possible collaboration. Sharing ideas on the fly over cups of coffee, the duo made a decision that would eventually evolve into the current exhibit.
The final concept of Fem-Fusion was to pair artists and writers to create pieces inspired by each other’s work. Artists and writers would hand in some of their own work and then create something entirely new based on the original piece given to them.
Bird, vice president of the Art Alliance and Penn State alumnus, said she was first introduced to Miyashiro at an exhibition she curated, and the two met at again sporadically at various events. A film graduate in 1985, Bird said she felt a connection to Miyashiro and his poetry, which eventually led her to approach Miyashiro and offer a collaboration.
“I met her several times after that, and I finally said, ‘You know, I feel like we’re supposed to do something together,'” Bird said.
Miyashiro, the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s writer-in-residence, said that when Fem-Fusion materialized, she was tasked with inviting the writers and Bird was tasked with finding the artists.
The decision to center the exhibit on female experiences and expression was almost always a natural part of the process, according to Bird.
“I didn’t really think it was a girl thing to begin with,” Bird said. “I don’t think we ever really considered asking men to be in it… I really wanted it to be women collaborating and supporting each other and coming up with completely new things.”
“We were lined up,” Miyashiro said. “We didn’t have too many long conversations about the ‘fem’ part… I focused more on those themes.”
Originally scheduled to show in June 2020, Bird and Miyashiro had to put the brakes on quickly during the coronavirus pandemic. The artists and writers involved turned to Zoom to continue their work, according to Bird.
A year later, the exhibit was finally postponed and is now fully on display for Center County to witness. Bird said being able to finally see the artists and writers’ works together for the first time was almost overwhelming.
“I really didn’t know how this was going to work until I started getting the parts, and I sat here and cried,” Bird said. “When you look at the works themselves, they are beautiful writings and works of art, but when you put them together they will blow your mind.”
Jordan Haines, tattoo artist and founding member of the Paper Moon Tattoo Company at State College, is one of the artists featured in the exhibit. Her exhibited work includes drawings she made in response to Miyashiro’s poetry, as well as a photograph of a tattoo she drew.
Haines said the experience of being able to create art inspired by someone else’s work was phenomenal.
“Working with Nicole was almost a blessing,” Haines said. “Our creativity and our visions immediately complemented each other. Reading his work, there were moments that I recognized and related to those that I try to identify in my own fine art and also in relation to tattooing.
On hearing about the exhibition from Abby Minor, a friend and featured artist of the exhibition, Nicole Gargiulo said that being able to see the work created by women was wonderful during the opening event.
“After last year’s gloom, coming back to a space that celebrates color, image, writing, women’s art and creativity – it’s just nice to be in that energy,” said Gargiulo.
Saturday was Juliette Hawkins’ first visit to the Art Alliance building, and she said the space and the artwork on display were positive experiences.
“I love the idea of cross-art collaboration and the fact that they inspire each other and respond to each other,” Hawkins (PhD-Literature) said. “Each of them had a play that was complete and an answer.”
Hawkins said attending the opening of the exhibit was the first time she had attended a group event since the pandemic began.
The art center exhibit, located in Lemont just outside State College, will reopen to the public June 12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and June 13 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Masks are mandatory inside.
In addition to the exhibit, Bird and Miyashiro have created a virtual exhibit book for those who can’t be there in person. The virtual option can be found on the Art Alliance website website.
Bird said those planning to attend the expo should come prepared and keep an open mind about what to expect.
“Art is good for your soul – good art and good exhibits make you think about things you never expected,” Bird said. “In the case of Fem-Fusion, look at what women can do when we work together…Prepare to be blown away.”
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