FAIRBANKS — What does it mean to be female? What is femininity? Is it frilly, lacy and maybe even a little pink? Scissors all dolled up?
Jess Peña and Rebecka Delcastillo attempt to answer these questions with “Pan·té·mím,” an exhibition starting Monday at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Art Gallery. The show, which helps complete their Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees, is their first together.
Both artists produce feminine-themed works with a muted color palate. Peña focuses on two dimensions; Delcastillo uses three. They believe the styles complement each other, even though they arise from different perspectives.
Recently married, Delcastillo’s art provided a way to work through her newly found domesticity, juxtaposed against single life and its less defined roles.
Her 3D art includes a giant yurt covered in a bustle and a half-mannequin wearing Alaska flag panties.
“(It shows that) we’re controlling ourselves and presenting a facade,” Delcastillo said. “But people are still wild.”
She shows off that “wild side” by taking practical items and making them impractical. The yurt, for example is a useful survival tool, but when covered with a bustle — a large bell-like skirt — the practicality is diminished. Scissors and other tools have been dolled up with lace, making them “obnoxiously feminine.”
Delcastillo considers it a pseudo-experiment in feminism.
“I don't think of myself as really girly,” she said. “But it was really enjoyable accepting both the wild and domestic.”
Peña’s show also deals with femininity, but in a different way: by examining the different roles of women.
Much of her work focuses on traditional learning aids — charts, diagrams and maps.
“They’re things we think of as education tools,” Peña said.
Those maps usually present information objectively, she said. Peña wanted to dilute the information’s objectivity by inserting personal thoughts and experiences.
One piece, “Revision Process,” modifies three heads to reflect Peña’s personal take on phrenology — a debunked line of study that purports to link human skull shapes with specific traits.
The first head displays different personalities in equal parts, but Peña modified the others to reflect her own traits. Moral and self-esteem regions dominate the second head. The third head lacks the math trait.
“It’s about providing objective information in a visual way,” Peña said. “(Then) trying to take that format and direct personal thoughts and experience to it.”
Peña is the mother of three children — 6-year-old twin girls and a 2-year-old son. She said each piece allowed to her to break down questions about herself. Because of that, there’s symbolism.
“(But it’s) still personal to me ... still recognizable images,” she said.
Both women insist their works aren’t feminist images.
“I wouldn’t say we’re making clear feminist statements,” Peña said. “We’re excited to be two girls making art together, having fun and putting up pink stuff.”
Contact features writer Suzanna Caldwell at 459-7504.