The title of this exhibition, IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY, comes from a work by the prominent feminist artist Jenny Holzer. This evocative phrase tells a story of possibility and implies critical questions that have guided our thinking around the artworks gathered for this project: Who, under what conditions, must struggle to survive? What does survival look like for individuals and communities? And, how might the tools of our imaginations help us to find joy and collectively reshape the conditions of our society?
With works by eight female artists—Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Adriana Corral, Ellie Ga, Juliana Huxtable, Tala Madani, Danielle Mckinney, Wendy Red Star, and Clare Rojas, along with engagements by Jenny Holzer—this exhibition grapples with a range of critical issues facing our society today. As Holzer’s phrase suggests, the featured artists both acknowledge societal inequities and envision pathways toward a new and better future. Confronting identity and history in ways informed by feminism and other political thought, their works evaluate systems that suppress and exclude those whose lives are not privileged within the dominant patriarchal power structure.
Dreams can offer sources of inspiration motivating us to change the circumstances of our lives. Similarly, storytelling and other approaches to narrative forms offer ways of examining and affecting reality. Employing these strategies of imagination, the artworks in this exhibition offer refuge from systems of oppression and present vital perspectives that may help us to unsettle those systems. Reflecting on the social and historical conditions underpinning our ways of being in the world, the featured artists inspire us to tell new stories about who we are and what is possible for each of us. In this, they invite us to imagine more equitable, joyful futures.
The artists in the exhibition adopt varied strategies to question and rewrite prescribed narratives. Some play with and contest tropes of gender, the body, and self-representation, while some invoke alternative forms of personal, collective, or intergenerational knowledge. The ground floor gallery gathers works by four artists using figural representation to address social constructions of selfhood alongside reflections on the inner life. Danielle Mckinney portrays solitary female figures in states of reverie, while Clare Rojas explores varieties of female companionship and communions with the natural world. Juliana Huxtable destabilizes restrictive societal categories around race, gender, sexuality, and species, while Tala Madani confronts power dynamics and cultural taboos through images that excavate the psyche. The upstairs gallery presents works by four artists whose research-based practices employ counter-storytelling to confront systems of domination alongside constructions of history and knowledge. Wendy Red Star counters colonial narratives about Native Americans through works celebrating the knowledge and traditions of her Apsáalooke heritage, while Adriana Corral examines human rights abuses and unwritten histories, including within the U.S.–Mexico border region. Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley centers the lived experiences of Black Trans people through interactive works blending research and fiction, while Ellie Ga elicits images of power and resistance through nonlinear narratives approaching stories threatened with loss or that cannot fully be known.
IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY is curated by Robin K. Williams, Curator, with Julie Le, Assistant Curator, The Contemporary Austin.
The exhibition is made possible through generous support from Rachel and Jeff Arnold, Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, Carly and Clayton Christopher, Suzanne Deal Booth, Deborah Dupré, Deborah Green and Clayton Aynesworth, Kathleen Irvin Loughlin, Suzanne McFayden, Chris Mattsson, Fredericka and David Middleton, Guillermo Nicolas and Jim Foster, Topo Chico, Zarmeena Vendal, and Melba and Ted Whatley.
This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.