Meeting of the Association of Hysteric Curators, 2016
AHC meeting, 2015
Photos: Zeal Harris
AHC curator Rachel Finkelstein in conversation with artist Eve Wood at Wood's poetry workshop, DAC gallery, 2015
Photo: Allison Stewart
The Association of hysteric curators:
ladies of the largest hearts
March 1, 2016
Mary Anna Pomonis
Two years ago I received an exciting email from a curator at an art museum. I was solicited to participate in an international exhibition. This is an excerpt from the emailed I received:
“Each of us finds our ethical position slowly through a combination of family values, community norms and cultural signifiers. ... When we began the process of building this exhibition we began with the notion of the difficulty in translating one language to the other. There is an immediate problem in communication that seemed valuable for us to focus on. Not just spoken and written language either, but also how the Western visual art tradition has developed and the complexities of cultural transmission from one set of cultures to another set. What do we share and what is alien between us?”
I sent a proposal that was quickly rejected for being too personal. I began to plead for my work, presenting the arguments first espoused by Carol Hanisch in her essay, “The Personal Is Political." After a disappointing process of emailing back and forth over the course of two days, my work was finally dismissed for being too soft to fit into a tacitly political show. Instead, I was offered a chance to curate an exhibition at the museum based on my apparently interesting—but not overtly political enough—concepts.
After a time, my disappointment evaporated and turned into something different. I began thinking about the ramifications of dismissal for women in the art world. Years later, often after initial rejection, concepts initially derived by women eventually re-emerge but are accredited to others. Concepts that fall outside of mainstream masculine narratives often lie hidden and aren’t seen as overt or aggressive enough until they are later appropriated by male artists. One example would be the social practice artwork of contemporary male artists who have culturally appropriated weaving, knitting, and making food, all traditional crafts taught in Home Economics classes to girls and women in first half of the twentieth century. Doris Kouyias, for example, was baking bread and presenting food at ceramics exhibitions at U.C. Berkeley when she studied with Peter Voulkos in 1973, self-publishing a book about the practice, “Bread Rise Up and be Needed”.
Historically, we have seen women excluded from the narrative arc of history. A flagrant example would be the epic poetry of Enheduanna, the world’s first recorded author (2,300 B.C.), her epic poem, “Lady of the Largest Heart”  was an ancient blockbuster, pre-dating the work of Hammurabai by 550 years. Enheduanna has all but disappeared from our cultural lexicon while the name of Hammurabai has endured.
I also thought that the curator’s profound dismissal of my role as an artist was passive aggressive, especially as it held an offer to instead make me a curator, someone who could visualize concepts to help or support other artists. I decided to take this directive and act on it as a form of protest. But rather than be an independent curator, I chose to form a curatorial team focused on working in a non-hierarchical way to curate as a form of protest, to offer women an open forum to curate shows and create work together without a leader. Today that group, the Association of Hysteric Curators has a mission (written collaboratively) as follows:
The Association of Hysteric Curators (AHC) envelops a fluid, evolving, trans-generational group of women who gather bi-weekly to share in a discussion around contemporary feminism and the historicity of the term. We seek to explore notions of female protest and the presence of gendered articulations through a non-hierarchical structure based in dialogue and exchange. As we honor the lineage of feminist models, we dare to envision a future of human equality, knowing we must interrogate the customs of today in order to enable conditions for change. As a working model, we understand that democratic consensus is slow and laborious in comparison to the type of fast paced and often decentralized systems found in 2014today. The reduced pace of our methodology allows for ideas to ebb and flow through ongoing conversations aimed at process over product. We are invitational and open, focused on explorations of female power through vistas of holes, blanks, ruptures, and catastrophes. As an agent of chaos and change, we posit our curatorial agenda as a figurative fault line; our research a body of water formed in a valley between two plates; our legacy the large-scale lateral movement along hundreds of miles of the fault: watch us as we spread and break down barriers, expanding and amplifying our space in society. —AHC
AHC Artists: Virginia Arce, Lili Bernard, Carolyn Castano, Blue Orchard, Cherie Benner Davis, Chelle Barbour, Angel Chen, Malado Baldwin, Diana Sofia-Estrada, Rachel Finkelstein, Christine Dianne Guiyangco, Nat George, Hazel Handan, Emma Kemp, Isabelle Ludderodt, Meg Madison, Mary Anna Pomonis, Cindy Rehm, Kim Russo, Allison Stewart, Guita Tahmassebi, Michiko Yao and Dajin Yoon.
More information is available on the AHC facebook page.
Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart : Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess by Betty De Shong Meador
Mary Anna Pomonis is a Los Angeles Based Teaching Artist whose projects have encompassed varying forms including performance, painting, writing, curating, and social practice. She teaches at Cal Arts in the Teaching Artists Institute as well as at Cal State University San Bernardino and Hoover High School in Glendale, California. She is a founding member of the Association of Hysteric Curators and co-editor with Annie Buckley of Radical Actions: From Teaching Artists to Social Practice.