Allyson Mitchell

A Girl's Journey to the Well of Forbidden Knowledge, 2010



Inspired by the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, A girl's journey to the well of forbidden knowledge transforms the gallery space into a lesbian feminist library. One wall is lined with reproductions of drawings made to document and honour the books in the Archives' holdings, the same theoretical texts that have inspired my own visual arts practice. These laborious renderings pay homage not only to the Lesbian Herstory Archives, but to all feminist presses, bookstores and libraries that have worked valiantly to advocate for the significance of women's stories, histories and acts of resistance, often in the face of sexism, homophobia and financial constraints. These drawings also function as a memorial to the disappearing history of material texts that connect queer communities: as the printed page is increasingly threatened by the progression of digital publishing, more women's publishers and queer book retailers are becoming extinct. Essential meeting places for politicized people are lost.

Michelle Jacques, Contempoary Art Curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario Describes the exhibition:

"The sculptural figures – imposing in size, humorous in disposition, and completely exposed in their nudity – are made from papier mâché worked over store-bought mannequins. These figures are the archivists, the librarians, the students, the readers. They are arresting in their stature and state of undress, yet they are also whimsical and more than a little vulnerable. They join their countless naked sisters who already inhabit the AGO, their exaggerated genitalia serving to make the private public and questioning idealized depictions of nude and near naked women that have become the norm. They stand tall on a mirror as a new way to reflect femininity while they burn copies of Janson's History of Art in defiance of the canon that would render them invisible. Mitchell's nudes are real bodied women, and the connection from their labia to the giant brain that hovers above them rearranges assumptions that men are governed by the brain and driven by rational thought and that women are governed by the body and driven by emotion."