The first image that came to mind when I heard about Lori Victor’s latest installation, How Would Mary Feel? was an icon of the Virgin Mary. ‘Tis the season.
The work, to be displayed at Wall Space Gallery until Dec. 29, is essentially a wall of derogatory words that have been used to disdainfully describe women for centuries. It is intended to generate discussions regarding women’s rights. According to the Artist Statement, each word is cross-stitched by hand using cotton embroidery thread on traditional “Aida” fabric, and framed individually, with each frame measuring 7.5 x 10 inches.
The title question refers not to the Holy Virgin, but to 11-year-old Mary Stalker of Newbury, Massachusetts. The font used in this installation was copied from a sampler created by the girl in 1760. Her complete sampler is part of the Colonial Williamsburg collection in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“In Mary Stalker’s lifetime, women would embroider if they came from means,” explains Victor. Embroidery and cross-stitching were seen as expressions of the feminine ideal of that time period.
“I was stunned to find out that, after hearing about the history of women’s rights, young women don’t believe feminism is relevant anymore,” says Victor. “They tell me we’ve come this far, and that feminism is not necessary. Some even go so far as to say that feminism is dead.”
Victor wanted her installation to open up a dialogue between its viewers. The work premiered this year at Nuit Blanche.
“I had a woman express that she was proud to be a cougar,” Victor says. “Another young woman was upset by the words.”
Victor did quite a bit of research to find enough words to cover more than 100 panels.
Born and raised in Ottawa, Victor has been painting for 12 years. She studied first at the Ottawa School or Art, and completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Ottawa in 2011. She paints full-time at The Rectory Art House.
“I am very proud and honoured to be hosting this installation,” says Wall Space Gallery Director Patricia Barr. “I was struck by the poignancy of the work in the age of Miley Cyrus.
Barr explains how the gallery and the artist recreated a living room setting for the installation. “It’s pretty from afar,” she says. “As you get closer to the wall of words, though, the meaning of the pretty cross-stitch becomes shocking.”
The installation’s private opening Dec. 6 was not intentionally meant to coincide with the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, but that it did was a relevant coincidence.
“I was a student at McGill when the shootings at (l’Ecole polytechnique de Montréal) occurred,” she says. “That was 24 years ago, in the days before the Internet. I came home from school to frantic phone calls from my parents and relatives.”
Four new paintings by Victor depicting flight and movement will also be exhibited, titled IM2: Ideology, Mindscapes and Mythology.
Wall Space Gallery is located at 358 Richmond Rd. Lori Victor’s work will be displayed until December 29.