21C’s The Future is Female Exhibit Showcases 50 Contemporary Artists

Traveling exhibition “The Future is Female” at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham highlights contemporary art by women.
By Colony Little

The seminal slogan, “The Future is Female” has become a renewed mandate for equality in recent years, and it’s also the title of an important traveling exhibition of contemporary art at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham.

The Future is Female brings together works from 50 of the strongest voices in contemporary art today. Spanning multiple floors of the hotel’s property, the show is densely packed and represents diverse artistic mediums that embody themes of gender identity, power, racism, sexual orientation, and environmental neglect. The numerous perspectives expressed in such varied art forms offers viewers multiple opportunities for them to engage with the work in surprising and exciting ways.

Frances Goodman’s large, colorful, snake-skinned, tentacles that resemble Medusa’s crown of tendrils conjure up entirely new ideas around deception and disguise when they are viewed up close to reveal that they are made from long, painted acrylic nails. Multi-layered references are also found in Saya Woolfalk’s life size figures that are comprised of intricately textured, elaborately beaded skins made of textiles and lace. Her fantastical forms are simultaneously recognizable and not of this world, evoking science fiction and Afrofuturistic concepts while also expressing cultural hybridities that draw on Latin American and Caribbean folkloric traditions.

Medusa by Frances Goodman

Various styles of portraiture are represented through photography, painting by Lynette Yiadom-Boayke, and a gilded dedication to strong women by Durham-based artist Stacy Lynn-Waddell. Iconic works by Zoë Buckman, Jenny Holzer, Alison Saar, Mickalene Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems round out the diverse show.

Curator Alice Gray Stites presents The Future is Female in a comprehensive way that examines how present forms of art and activism have evolved from the trailblazing work of female contemporary artists from the 1960s and 1970s. As Stites remarks in her essay for the show, “the ensuing transformation ushered in generations of artists addressing identity, the body, and the affirmation of personal experience.”

The Future is Female is an important cultural touchstone that not only highlights how far contemporary art by women has evolved, but it also reinforces art’s vital role in speaking truth to power today.