Vernon artist Julie Oakes’ exhibit, SheShe: Stylistic Empathy, opens at the Salmon Arm Art Gallery on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Julie Oakes photo)

Upcoming Salmon Arm Art Gallery exhibit a self-reflective exploration of womanhood

SheShe: Stylistic Empathy, by Vernon artist Julie Oakes, opens Friday, Jan. 17

By Barb Brouwer


The power of women and their many roles in society is the subject of an exhibition that opens with a special reception at the Salmon Arm Art Gallery on Friday, Jan. 17.

“SheShe: Stylistic Empathy,” is a multi-media installation by Vernon artist Julie Oakes.

Art gallery curator/director Tracey Kutschker says the exhibition is a self reflective exploration of womanhood through the lens of an established Canadian artist with a rich history of balancing domestic and professional life.

“Oakes reminds us that to be human is to be animal, inviting the viewer to reconnect with the traditionally feminine parts of themselves,” Kutschker says.

In her her book by the same name, Oakes says SheShe comes from a reiteration of chichi, pronounced shee-shee and used to describe a super turnout – often in fashion.

“She She’ is a double affirmation of the feminine, she says. “In my life I have observed that females, for the most part, tend to be more hospitable, generous, communicative and embracing, and work with a sense of co-operation.”

While women have always been nurturers by the fact they are child bearers, and perhaps less likely to start wars because of it, Oakes sees a much wider role. And she questions whether history would have been different had women been in charge.

“Would women have invented different medical practices, laws, economic structures, political hierarchies?” she asks. “Does our current environmental and social condition come from being human or is this destiny we’ve landed in been created due to a gender skew in the allocation of power and priorities?”

Oakes studied art at the University of Manitoba and says she graduated when well-known artist Judy Chicago had recently presented “The Dinner Party.”

“She was the artist at the time that dealt with the feminine; she stepped up and beyond what women had been doing,” Oakes says.

Oakes considers herself to have been an artist since Grade 5 and, while she has travelled the world, believes it is important to retain her roots and share her art in her own community. As well, a body of her work will soon be on its way to Poland and she is not sure it will return to Canada.

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“‘I would hope the viewer responds to what it is that’s there,” she says of her art. “I think the feminine esthetic has a generosity of beauty to it and that’s what I would like to be giving back to whoever comes to see the exhibition.”

Kutschker meanwhile says Oakes’ body of work is a very relevant conversation to be having in Salmon Arm because there is a demographic of women who span four generations.

“The way we measure our accomplishments and values has changed significantly and you could meet two people on the street who measure entirely differently what it means to be a woman,” she says. “Having all these female and domestic symbols combined and presented in a fantastical way provides a way in for every generation to talk about what it means to be a female.”

Kutschker says the many symbols and the ornate way in which they are presented should prompt questions about what it means to the individual viewer.

“You have to let the art speak for itself,” she says of what she describes as Oakes’ mash-up of female power over the centuries.

Kutschker adds that the collection of paintings, tapestries and 3D mixed media work creates a traditional domestic setting in order to elevate it and affirm the strength of that world once held by women.

The exhibition opens at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, with live music and refreshments, and continues to Feb. 15.

Learn more about Julie Oakes’ artistic process at the Artist Talk that will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23. The Art Centre will provide fresh baked cookies and locally roasted coffee.

Gallery hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Admission is by donation.

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