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At the Ford Foundation Gallery, an Exhibition Series Spotlights International Resistance to Gender-Based Violence

Sheba Chhachhi, "From the Barricades," 1980-95. Image courtesy of the artist.

Is it possible to create an exhibition about the impact of gender-based violence without depicting violence? This was a challenge that the Ford Foundation Gallery, the foundation’s New York exhibition space dedicated to art and social justice, confronted head-on in its new show, “Cantando Bajito.”

It is the first in a three-part, yearlong series dedicated to artists whose work serves as a form of resistance to escalating violence against female and trans individuals amid the overturning of Roe v. Wade and efforts to outlaw gender-based healthcare. The inaugural show filters the subject through a wide variety of media—video, sound, etching, painting, and photographs—and a geographically diverse slate of artists, including Sheba Chhachhi of India, Gabrielle Goliath of South Africa, and Leonilda González of Uruguay. 

Lisa Kim, the director of the Ford Foundation Gallery, shares how she developed an all-star curatorial group to advise on the show, her vision for the next two exhibitions, and the personal spark of inspiration that ignited the ambitious initiative. 

Tuli Mekondjo, Omalutu etu, omeli medu eli. 2022. Image courtesy of JSP Art Photography.

CULTURED: How and when did the conversation around this yearlong series begin at the Ford Foundation Gallery? How did you and your team choose which curators to tap?

Lisa Kim: In early 2020, I saw Tania Candiani's exhibition PULSO at the Arizona State University Art Museum, and then on a trip to Johannesburg, I had a studio visit with Gabrielle Goliath. While a world apart and vastly different, their projects transformed collective and personal histories of gender-based violence into reclamations of space and healing—and I was deeply moved by their use of sound.

Working from these two artists as a starting point, I had been looking for other artists, curators, and exhibitions to address GBV [gender-based violence] in the gallery. Then, in early 2023, I invited feminist curator and writer Roxana Fabius to create a show for the gallery under this premise. She came back with a brilliant concept (and exhibition title), framing how the erosion of bodily autonomy occurs in parallel with the erosion of democratic values. Understanding that GBV was not endemic to one locale, Roxana assembled a global cohort of curatorial advisors and co-curators, including Beya Othmani, Isis Awad, Kobe Ko, Susana Vargas Cervantes, Mindy Seu, María Carri, Maria Catarina Duncan, Zasha Colah, and Marie Hélène Pereira.

CULTURED: What historical antecedents did the curatorial team look to for inspiration? 

Lisa Kim: The team drew from contemporary global movements of resistance, including "la marea verde" (the Green Wave) in Argentina, #CzarnyPoniedzialek (Black Monday) in Poland, the "marriage strike" in South Korea, the wave of protests in Iran, and how communities of feminized bodies are organizing and demanding space for their needs and rights. The concept of re-existence and the aesthetics of vulnerability are guiding principles for the exhibition series. There were many historical exhibitions that were a source of inspiration for what they included and did not.

Leonilda González, Novias revolucionarias V, 1968. Image courtesy of Ministerio de Educación y Cultura Uruguay.

CULTURED: “Cantando Bajito” unites works across cultures and countries. Did putting these artists' works in conversation reveal any unexpected throughlines, either in content or approach? 

Lisa Kim: This is a great question because no matter how much you plan on paper or in Powerpoint, wonderful synergies always happen when you bring the works together. Tuli Mekondjo's celestial orbs splattered in gold are in dialogue with the molecular globs of water and splashes of silver in Kent Monkman's painting I am nipiy; Leonilda González's "Revolutionary Brides" echo the gathering and defiance of the women documented in Sheba Chhachhi's "From the Barricades" series; sound and song are integral to Keioui Keijaun Thomas's BLACK BODIES video and Gabrielle Goliath's This song is for... installation—and both works, while speaking to violence, refuse to visualize it.

CULTURED: Were there any pitfalls you and the curators wanted to avoid in approaching themes including violence against women and trans people? 

Lisa Kim: It was critical that we represent the existence of violence without directly illustrating violence. 

Ford Foundation, “Cantando Bajito" (Installation View), 2024. Photography by Sebastian Bach. Image courtesy of the Ford Foundation. 

CULTURED: What work in “Cantando Bajito” speaks to you most right now? 

Lisa Kim: Oh, don’t make me choose a favorite! An exhibition is greater than the sum of its parts.

CULTURED: How does this series speak to the gallery and the Ford Foundation’s broader mission? Has working with the curatorial group on these exhibitions informed any of the foundation’s broader work? 

Lisa Kim: My compass for gallery programming is to serve the Foundation's mission. I love it when my colleagues are excited about our exhibitions. Hopefully, we can offer new perspectives on the issues we tackle to our grantees and the full range of attendees at convenings and events in the building.

CULTURED: How do you foresee the following two parts of this series building upon or complicating the first installment?

Lisa KimThe series is an arc—first, we offer testimonies and related strategies for confronting and addressing GBV. Show two will highlight systems and networks of shared knowledge and tactics for care, mutual aid, and protection. Then, in show three, we showcase the power of gathering and collective action.

Ford Foundation, “Cantando Bajito" (Installation View), 2024. Photography by Sebastian Bach. Image courtesy of the Ford Foundation. 

CULTURED: As “Cantando Bajito” opens to the public, what are you hoping audiences take away from the show? 

Lisa Kim: I hope audiences expand their knowledge and that the artworks spark curiosity and empathy to learn more about the people, places, histories, and issues raised in the exhibitions. Perhaps we'll ignite future movement leaders, artists, healers, teachers, storytellers, policymakers...

CULTURED: As the director of an influential foundation’s gallery, what do you want to see more and less of in the art world in 2024? 

Lisa Kim: More room for diverse perspectives, cultures, communities, and those working outside the traditional systems of the art world. More resources and economic stability for artists and pathways for sustainable careers in the arts. More artists at the table. More educators. More entry points and accessibility for audiences. More care and collaboration. Less ego.