Princesses + Monsters addresses gender roles through archetypes

Traditional gender roles are questioned in the current exhibit hosted at The Italian Cultural Center in Vancouver. Princesses + Monsters, the opening exhibition to the Gendered Voices Series, looks at traditional archetypes through visions from childhood.

“How does feminism address these long-held traditional roles that are being maintained in our culture?” asks Angela Clarke, curator of The Italian Cultural Center’s Museum and Gallery.

Princesses + Monsters runs from January 17–March 30 and is the first in the 2019 four-part Gendered Voices Series.

Gendered voices

In the Princesses + Monsters exhibit, a certain whimsy mixes with dark elements to produce questions about what the new feminism is up against in this 21st century. Previous generations of Italian-Canadians didn’t call into question these traditional notions of family and spirituality the way the contemporary generation does, says Clarke. This conversation, mixed with the need for the center to bring in fresh perspectives from the surrounding community, sparked the Gendered Voices Series.

Exhibiting artist Anyuta Gusakova establishes that the title, Princesses + Monsters, was chosen together with Clarke based on a previous show in 2014, Taming of the Minotaur. This is where the monster theme started. A couple of the exhibited pieces reference back to this Minotaur, which becomes not only a dark looming mythological figure but also the supporter or protector of the princess.

“For contemporary Italian-
Canadians there has been a reaction to these notions of identity. However, there was a real interest in the gallery and museum to have an Italian-based conversation while supporting local BC artists,” says Clarke.

Princess diaries

Princess and Griffin.| Photo by Theresa K. Howell.

Gusakova is one of those local artists. A new immigrant from Vladivostok, Russia, Gusakova found her way to Vancouver through a cultural exchange when she was at university. Back in 1994, she participated in the exchange staying with a family in Victoria, BC.

“I just fell in love with Canada −
it was like a different planet for me. The whole experience imprinted in my head. So later when I graduated from my post-secondary studies and the choices of immigration were New Zealand, Australia and Canada; that previous image cropped up,” says Gusakova.

Much of her childhood dreams came to fruition with her arrival to Canada almost 11 years ago. One of those was being an artist to create on her own terms. Gusakova’s Princess series culminated from her childhood memories of drawing princesses. These creative activities freed her from oppressive social and family norms.

“The princesses had power to do what they wanted to do and be what they wanted to be. So, this figure I created had a certain freedom that I wanted but could only imagine,” says Gusakova, about her childhood drawings.

Monsters and other conversations

Princess and Blue Horse.| Photo courtesy of Anyuta Gusakova.

The characters within the exhibit have various symbolic meanings. The symbolism in her princess and horse compilations are ones that denote friendship, an equality in relationships; whereas the Minotaur and other dark archetypes become a deeper conversation between the dark and light sides of self and others. All in all, the discussion of relationships, family and gender roles fills the Gendered Voices Series which concludes with the ceramic exhibition called Malleable.

Princesses + Monsters might seem naïve and frivolous, but the royal characters within these walls show a certain audacious attitude. What does the artist want people to take away from the show?

“Life wants you to be manageable and not ask too many questions, not to be different. I would like to share that, with freedom of imagination and inner freedom, people will keep dreaming,” says Gusakova.


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