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April 15, 2004



Photo of Entrance
Merrill Mason with Aaron Igler, Entrance;
Color photograph from the Red Robe series

Artist Merrill Mason will speak about narrative portrayals of identity across media at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 22, in Room B21 of Carpenter Library. Her talk, titled "Objects and Identity," is free and open to the public. It is part of the Picturing Women project, an ambitious multivenue exhibition and outreach program dealing with female identity and its representations in historical and contemporary works in three area venues. For more information, please call (610) 526-6576.

Two works by Mason Personal Effects, 1999, and several digital prints from her Red Robe Series of 2000 are on display at Bryn Mawr College as part of the exhibition. Personal Effects is a sculptural installation of a cast- iron vanity table complete with hairbrush, mirror, lipstick canister and a braided hairpiece.

"This is about the public versus private sphere of a woman's identity," said Mason. "You never see the woman's face in the installation; it is not a portrait of an individual but a portrait of her psychological state of being. The piece has a physical intimacy; how do these possessions give a portrait of the woman, what do they say about her?"

Both pieces, said Mason, grew out of work she did for the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wis. She was one of five artists asked to design a permanent and usable art installation for a women's public restroom. She designed an installation with a gray-and-white palette, made all the porcelain tiles, and added a slate floor, stainless steel doors and fixtures. The only color in the piece, said Mason, was that of the bright red robes, which she later photographed, creating the Red Robe Series.

As part of her work for the Kohler Arts Center, Mason worked in the Kohler factory, a male-dominated industrial site that produced the cast iron. She will talk about what it was like to work in that environment making pieces about female identity.

Mason will also discuss her recent work, in which she is photographing the house and physical possessions of her recently deceased father. Mason said this work will help her reflect and also remember his identity — and absence through his physical environment.

"Historical portraits were often painted with important possessions such as a pet or a household item, to help reflect the identity of the person," said Mason. "In the same way, I see and use personal possessions in my work to reflect and reveal the identity of their owners."

Picturing Women: Historical Works and Contemporary Responses at Philadelphia-Area Institutions runs through May 30 at Bryn Mawr College, and through April 30 at the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Rosenbach Museum. It includes a series of public programs and student workshops as well as an interdisciplinary symposium.

The exhibition juxtaposes contemporary artwork and historical objects to promote dialogue about representations, and self-representations, of female identity, said exhibition curator Susan Shifrin, a research fellow at Bryn Mawr's Center for Visual Culture, visiting assistant professor of art history at Ursinus College, and curator of education at Ursinus' Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art.

The exhibition and its public programming are made possible by generous support from the William Penn Foundation, the Samuel S. Fels Fund, the Valentine Foundation, the Center for Visual Culture at Bryn Mawr College, Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library, and the project's partner organizations. The creation and development of the educational programming was made possible in part by a grant from the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership through support by the William Penn Foundation, as well as by the Samuel S. Fels Fund and the Valentine Foundation.

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