Women from the UI use their art to tell stories about experiences and womanhood

Wednesday marks International Women’s Day, which celebrates and empowers women from all walks of life. At the UI, women use art to express their feelings and ideas.

Emma Gaughan, Arts Reporter

Looking around the University of Iowa campus, art can be found everywhere. With sculptures outside of buildings and paintings lining the walls, the UI creates a desirable space for all artists. On March 8, International Women’s Day will provide the opportunity to learn about local female artists.

Historically, women have often struggled to be seen as serious and competent artists. Sophie Hass Schenkel, a senior student pursuing a degree in fine arts at the UI, uses unique materials in her art, such as emergency blankets, clear plastic, tablecloths, and VHS tapes — anything she can cut into strips and crochet. She said she has crocheted for a long time, so much so that she finds herself able to do it unconsciously.

“I find that when I’m working that way, I get these beautiful meditative forms that I might not be able to make if I was consciously deciding what to do,” Hass Schenkel said. “I’m also really drawn to plastic. I think there’s a lot of interesting forms of artificial material, especially in relation to purity and women.”

Heidi Casto, a UI art professor, first touched clay when she was a junior in high school. Her father was interested in pottery, and when they learned there was a potter in town, he wanted to teach her how to throw pots.

“As soon as I touched clay, it was like, I have got to do this for the rest of my life,” Casto said.

Casto graduated with her Master of Fine Arts from the UI in 2011. While she has lived in other places over the years, she happily moved back to Iowa City in 2016. Although Casto was originally drawn to pottery, she found herself loving ceramics.

“I use the personification of animals to talk about my own personal stories and experiences that we have as mothers or as women,” Casto said. “I’m interested in our instincts and how strong they are. As humans, we have so many other voices coming in. Animals just do what their instincts tell them to do.”

She said she struggled in the past to explore stories of femininity and womanhood in her artwork but felt inspired by past female artists to tell her own story. She said she hopes sharing the story of her own womanhood in her art will inspire other female artists to make art about the female experience.

Casto’s work also plays on the idea of being two things at once. She shared that she felt that women often get put into a box and aren’t allowed to be two things, like kind and powerful.

“I can be a kind, happy professor, and enjoy this process. The roles we play can be multiples,” she said.

Isabel Kent is a senior pursuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the UI who has been creating art for as long as she can remember. She said she had a love for it, and art classes were always her favorite in high school. She said her art teachers encouraged her to stay passionate about art.

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“I always come back to themes of comfort and nostalgia,” Kent said. “Art can be such a healing thing for me to make. The process of making it is very fulfilling. It feels good to me, so I focus on themes around that. Hopefully, it brings other people that feeling, too — just comfort and reminders of memories.”

Kent hopes to try as many mediums in art as she can, and she wants to fully explore her creative abilities and limits. When she makes art herself, however, she said he gravitates toward painting. Art is special to her because she said it feels like an escape, whether she is making it or looking at it.

Kent shared that she was drawn to the Iowa City and UI communities because of their vibrant artistic cultures. She felt that she would be welcome as an artist to create and be a part of the city.

“Iowa City always just felt like home to me,” Kent said. Her brother attended the UI before she did, and after visiting him, she knew Iowa City was where she wanted to be.

“I think so many people get discouraged by one comment or one bad teacher, and it can be hard,” she said, “But it can be very fulfilling, and there are lots of opportunities out there.”