Artist: Joanne Barwise

JB The Gaze Close-up
The Gaze – a closeup

There are artists who don’t shy away from putting their lives and/or experiences out there for the public to see. I think it takes a certain personal courage to produce such art – to  know that people will judge them – for better or for worst, and yet, to do it. I have the pleasure of knowing and having taught such an artist – Edmontonian Joanne Barwise. Her show at the U of A’s Enterprise Square in August is one that I found poignant, liberating, sad and even uncomfortable at times.

To say that this show had a feminist undercurrent would be spot on, but instead of focusing on themes of victimization or hatred of men, this show was surprisingly free of such things. Instead, Joanne’s art reflects who she is, what experiences she has had, and how they moulded her into the adult she is today.

Here are some of my favorite pieces from her show. The artist’s own words are in the space below the image:

JB The Gaze
The Gaze Sticky vinyl Shisha mirrors from India, sheer polyester fabric 2017 The gender roles in our culture are façades. We all play roles, we are all pretending. However, women are scrutinized by the male gaze. When I was a young woman, I remember that presence of domination where he saw me only for his sexual pleasure. Men see what they want to see, “I am a reflection of who you think I am.” Inside I am smart and strong.
JB Dress of Armour
My Second Dress of Armour Metal serving trays, metallic and cotton thread 2017   As I developed and grew wiser, I realized that I needed stronger and more powerful armour to protect me. No matter what fortress I built or shield I put up, there was always a way for words to get in. I realized that I have an Achilles Heel.
JB anything you want
You can be anything you want to be #1 Cotton and polyester fabrics, tulle, metallic plastic, Barbie playing cards, thread, vinyl and metal 2017 My mother never discouraged me from wanting to be anything. If I said I wanted to be a teacher, she said, “Of course you can be that.” She wanted her three daughters to be more and have more that she had. However, she never pointed us in the direction of engineering, dentistry or becoming a doctor. Of three daughters, one became a nurse, I became a teacher and my younger sister, a secretary. We never had Barbie dolls. We had the “Judy” doll, which barely had a bosom. Perhaps that played a role in defining how we saw ourselves.
JB anything you want Close up
A closeup of the dress – note the images of Barbie
My DNA Joanne Barwise
My DNA Vintage quilt top 2017 I am in love with idea that the women who have gone before me are part of me. My grandmother, her mother, all the way back to when they settled as Loyalists on Prince Edward Island (circa 1785). All those women are a part of me. My DNA is a quilt of their DNA.

It’s interesting how one perceives another. Perhaps because of my own background in textile arts, I saw a textile show, but Joanne told me she has never seen herself as a textile artist. The dresses were simply a means to an end. Here’s what she had to say:

“Women wear dresses to celebrate, to wed, to work, and to mourn. A dress is like a second skin. These empty dresses hang like skeletons bound with memories the absent body holds–my body, my memories. The dresses in this exhibition represented aspects of my life growing up from a girl to womanhood. It was a challenge for me to express some of the social pressures I felt as a girl, the relationship with my parents and the connections with my two sisters and brother. Through the Zen of making and contemplation, the metaphors appeared and my growing up years became clearer to me. I hope the viewer is able to connect to my stories.”

In every show and artist is expected to provide the viewer with a general introduction to their body of work, or project. This is what Joanne had to say about her work:

Artist Statement

“When I make, I create something and also participate in the historical traditions that are tens of thousands of years old. I feel connected to something greater than myself that manifests itself through a finished product. Making has been my lifelong constant. It is my practice, my outlet for creativity, a place to search for meaning, and a teacher of focus and patience.

Materials stir my curiosity and inspire my creativity. I like the process of looking at things differently, using metaphors and making something that connects form, material and idea together. Some of the materials I like to use in making with are rust, metal, wax, hog gut, textiles, and growing crystals.”

Good art makes you pause, to look, and to think about the work in front of you. The show was very successful and I look forward to seeing and hearing more about Joanne Barwise.









10 thoughts on “Artist: Joanne Barwise

  1. I got to see the whole show and enjoyed it immensely. It was a very thought provoking experience that I could relate to.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I can relate to the making part as I have been creating my own jewellery for the past ten years. I use semi precious and precious gemstone beads. I find peacefulness and patience. I have a great interest in gems. Like what they are, where they are from and how they form. I started doing this when I needed an outlet from my work as a Nursing Attendant and from everyday life. And I have excelled in my “art”fullness side.

  3. Thanks for posting this Johanne. I didn’t get the opportunity to see Joanne’s show, so this was a treat.

  4. I would very much like to contact Joanne Barwise. Circumstantial evidence leads me to believe my ancestors were also Loyalists who ended up in PEI. And the story stops there.

  5. A beautiful post, Johanne. Congrats to Joanne — remarkable work.
    One small thing, and I hope you don’t mind: the way you introduce the theme of feminism almost equates it with hatred of men and victimisation. Having faithfully followed your blog posts for a long time now, I’m pretty sure you don’t mean to, but others may not realize that.
    I reacted to it as a feminist — one of the first women in every prominent role I’ve had — and I never hated men or see myself as their victims.

    1. You are right – I didn’t mean that however I have noticed that often when there is a feminist leaning to an art how it usually is at the expense of men and this show wasn’t that at all. There is one piece in the show that she did that made me wince because it represented a fear that most women have. (a group of us discussed it at the show). Joanne hung a nice business suit on a mannequin – a pale skirt and matching jacket. It looks fine until you notice a rather sizeable bloodstain on the rear of the skirt. She explores the shame that comes with this blood and yet how it is the stuff of life. I loved the fact that she was so honest and not afraid to put herself and issues that are relevant to women out there.

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