With Nancy Pelosi having taken her historic position at the rostrum and Hillary Clinton hitting the presidential campaign trail, we have undoubtedly entered a new era of feminism. The F-word is once again being bandied about, as is that perennial question, “Can we have it all?” And it is thus no surprise to find that in her latest series, “Mom’s Friends,” the artist Kimberly Brooks adds a new voice to the debate. In making her starting point her childhood in Marin County in the 1970s, Brooks concentrates on women who are, according to her, “endlessly fascinating and mysterious . . . particularly because they were in such a state of transition.” While Brooks explores the theme of womanhood through the imagery of female liberation some thirty years ago, she is also able to investigate to the complex relationship between reality, memory and representation.
The “woman question” has been continually up for discussion since the inception of modern feminism in the late 1960s. As universal as this topic is Brooks was specifically inspired by her role as the mother of a young daughter, saying in her artist statement: “Now that I am a mother with a daughter of my own, I see the way she studies me and my friends, how she imitates the way I walk and talk or wants to traipse in my heels”. Recalling how she used to do the same, Brooks turned to her own mother for inspiration, using photographs from the 1970s of her mother and her mother’s friends (actual, and recreated with friends in vintage clothing) as the basis for her work. By presenting women who migrated to California from the Midwest and East Coast and consequently “melted their inhibitions, heated up their styles and . . . shed previous notions of themselves,” Brooks’s paintings fix us at a significant time and place vis-Ã -vis the role of women. Indeed, beginning in the 1970s many of the women of that generation sought, for the first time, to forge their identities apart from their husbands and families. And it is this feature–their newfound autonomy–that Brooks presents, and inevitably positions, against the current state of feminism in her work.