In this new blog series, our Senior Curator Linda Jansma or Assistant Curator Sonya Jones email artists with questions about their creative experiences. The emails are sent after the opening of the artists’ exhibition, and strive to reveal the experience of showing works at the RMG. In this edition Sonya Jones emailed Toni Hamel about her exhibition, The lingering, on now until the 24 of November, 2013.
SJ: What artists have influenced you and why?
Toni Hamel: There are many. Stylistically, I am attracted to the work of Michal Borremans, Joseph Cornell, Amy Cutler and Marcel Dzama. Conceptually, I love Mona Hatoum and Annette Messenger, both installation artists, for their choice of subject matter. Their work addresses the same issues I investigate in The lingering, such as gender role and discrimination, identity and self-acceptance. I also adore Betty Goodwin because I feel that her life story, much like mine, has been marked by serious struggles and heartaches, and I feel somewhat connected to the biography of Mary Pratt, although for different reasons. Married to the better known Christopher yet equally talented, Mary had to put her career on the back-burner while raising her family, her work considered more a hobby than a necessity during those years, and was able to re-focus on her practice only much later on in life. It is interesting to me to see how much I have in common with other women artists of my generations. Our biographies at times read very much as one: attempted our rise in the art world fresh out of art school, had to step away from it for two decades or so for familial commitments and obligations, and returned to it as middle-aged women. I wonder how many male artists have had to place their careers on such long hiatus because they had to dedicate the best years of their lives to caring for others…
SJ: Women often struggle with guilt at feeling discontented with their domestic existence. What would you say to these women?
Toni Hamel: It is ultimately a matter of choice. Guilt has many roots. It might stem from religious beliefs, from the social dictum, or from psychological predispositions. It is important to state at this point that this type of guilt is only experienced by women. Since for millennia we have been told to place our value as individuals on our ability to care for our families, it is quite understandable to feel guilty when our aspirations differ from those dictated by our society and/or culture. We are then confronted with an existential dilemma: do we continue living and behaving the way we have always done? Or do we break away from the norm and carve our own path? It is ultimately an issue of self-preservation and survival as guilt, in the long run, may also lead to more serious psychological complications.
An easy fix to this dilemma would be to physically remove ourselves from the context in which our guilt finds its fertile ground, to ultimately lead a life that is shaped by ourselves and for ourselves. When this option is not possible, I strongly believe that one way to alleviate one’s own discontent is to express it through a creative process. Such output not only has the power to sooth our soul, albeit momentarily, but it will also allow others to understand how we truly feel.
Our creative output, in fact, most times is able to succeed when simple words may otherwise fail. It is a form of communication that bridges the gap amongst us and brings us closer: as couples, as families, as communities, as human beings.
SJ: You are refreshingly open about your personal struggles. How has the response from this exhibition been?
Toni Hamel: The response has been unimaginably positive, beyond my expectations in fact. A much welcome and collateral benefit of this exhibit has been that it is encouraging other women to come together and share their life stories, to speak about their own personal struggles and collective experiences, and find constructive ways to re-direct their psychological uneasiness.
The lingering might be my story, but it is also the story of countless other women, therefore it is very easy for them to recognize their own lives in these works.
SJ: What do you hope people will take from the exhibition?
Toni Hamel: I hope that The lingering will guide its female viewers through a journey of self-empowerment and self-realization, and direct its male visitors toward a path of understanding, appreciation and admiration for all women. As artists and intellectuals we are called upon to shape the culture of the society in which we live, and I strongly believe that exhibitions like The lingering lead us all in the right direction.