There’s an important change taking place in American culture—especially for women—with the growing awareness in recent months of women’s place in society and an acknowledgement among both men and women that sexism and sexual harassment have affected many women’s lives and careers. The Belmont Gallery of Art addresses these issues in its new “A Woman’s Place” exhibit.

In the last several months, many Americans have learned of the misogynistic challenges and sexual harassment women have faced in the workplace and other aspects of American society through the #MeToo movement and its explosive growth—we have seen powerful men from many industries forced to step down after revelations of their bad behavior towards women became public.

While perhaps lesser-known to most people, the art world has been rampant with sexism and lost opportunities for women for literally hundreds of years. It has long been known for its sexism in not accepting and recognizing the value of women artists and their work.

To help illustrate this point, one can simply walk through any major museum and take note of how many women artists are represented. In 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin addressed that very issue. Her groundbreaking essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? asserted that institutions—from art academies, systems of patronage, to the very foundations of society—held women back from education, training, and other opportunities. Nochlin theorized that such institutional barriers prevented women from succeeding in many fields—including the arts.

The Belmont Gallery of Art (BGA) addresses some of these same issues in its new exhibit: “A Woman’s Place” (Jan. 12-March 10). Organized by artist and guest curator Kimberly Becker, “A Woman’s Place,” features work by 14 women artists that speak to what it means to be female in the 21st century.

Exhibit 'a window' into women's perspectives

Initially conceived as a way to recognize the one-year anniversary of the historic Women’s Marches of 2017, “A Woman’s Place” was far along in its planning stages when the #MeToo movement exploded last fall--giving the exhibit an even greater resonance in today’s current social and political climate.

Through a variety of media—painting, drawing, textile art, mixed media assemblage, photography, metal work and more—“A Woman’s Place” presents gallery visitors with a deeper view of the challenges and experiences of being a woman in a patriarchal society. “A Woman’s Place” presents a visual essay of being female in America today.

“The show provides a window into the perspective these women artists now have of their own lives, and the lives of their sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends in an-often misogynistic culture,” said Becker.

16 dresses tell stories

A centerpiece of the “A Woman’s Place” exhibit is Becker’s own “House Dress Project,” a collection of 16 dresses that depict individual stories, through image and words, of a woman who was marginalized for being female. Each woman’s “house” is painted on the front of the dress and her “story” is embroidered on the back. Becker sees the dresses as vehicles for women to finally tell their stories.

Becker, a painter and textile artist and RISD alum, describes the initial idea for her House Dress Project this way: “I was looking for a vehicle for telling stories as part of my MFA program, and in telling women's stories, dresses just made sense,” she said.

“The first house dresses I made included stories about my mother and friends," she said. "My mother raised my brother and me alone, so I grew up watching the stories happen before my eyes. As I started telling more women friends and colleagues about my project, they wanted to tell me their own stories and the project launched.”

The featured works in the House Dress Project are sensual, sheer, and diaphanous--meant to suggest lingerie and the constant exploitation of the female body. The reference to house dresses is a discussion of how women are still considered primarily as caregivers and housewives--even today.

“The women’s stories and experiences reflected in “A Woman’s Place” and the “House Dress Project” may sometimes be painful to read and observe—but they’re important to understand what it says to the female experience,” said Becker. “I think many women visitors to the show will see a part of themselves reflected in the work.”

The Belmont Gallery of Art’s “A Woman’s Place” and the “House Dress Project” opens Jan. 12 through March 10. An opening reception with the artists takes place Saturday, Jan. 13, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information on the exhibit extended weekend hours, special events, including gallery talks and film screenings, please visit the BGA website: The BGA is located in the Homer Bldg., Town Hall Complex, 19 Moore St., in Belmont Center.

Rebecca Richards is director of the Belmont Gallery of Art. A member of the Belmont Cultural Council, Richards writes frequently about the arts and culture.