‘Women of Substance: Olu Oguibe’ Currently on exhibit at JCAL

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One of the portraits on display at “Women of Substance: Olu Oguibe.
One of the portraits on display at “Women of Substance: Olu Oguibe.
One of the portraits on display at “Women of Substance: Olu Oguibe.

Women who made outstanding contributions to the world are the subject of “Women of Substance: Olu Oguibe,” which is currently on display at the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL).
Oguibe first began the “Women of Substance” project in 2000. At the time, he was working at the World Trade Center as the artist in residence through a residency program with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. The project “is a personal canon celebrating remarkable women who have given character and vision to the 20th century.”
Oguibe, who is also a critic, art historian, theoretician, curator, and poet, said that “women have always played a dominant role” in his work. He also said that there is a possibility that being the only surviving son in a family with seven girls may have also influenced his interest in women.
“In my art women have also occupied a central place, especially in my early work as a painter. That kind of petered out when I shifted to conceptual work in the mid-90s,” Oguibe said. “‘Women of Substance’ was therefore my way of returning to the subject of women and their place in history and society using the language of conceptual art.”
The exhibition at JCAL, which opened on February 1, marks the first time that these paintings have been displayed as a complete body of work in New York City. Curator Heng-Gil Han said that he had worked with Oguibe during previous exhibitions and that Oguibe had even been a co-curator at JCAL in the past.
Han went to Oguibe’s Connecticut studio to see “Women of Substance.” He said that he found the work interesting and thought that it would be good this time of year, being that Women’s History Month is March and International Women’s Day will take place on March 8.
“It is important to recognize the fact that the 20th century was not only shaped by men but also by women,” Han said. “People don’t know necessarily of these women who actually made a huge contribution to this society back in the 20th century.”
Some of the figures represented in “Women of Substance,” which features 35 different paintings, are Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Winnie Mandela, Ana Teresikowa and Chien-Shiung Wu. Oguibe said some of the women he already knew, and others he discovered through the process of creating “Women of Substance.”
Han said that there are two main differences between the “Women of Substance” exhibition and others that have been held at JCAL. First of all, it is rare for there to be solo exhibitions. Also, typically their exhibitions feature various mediums, whereas this exhibition is single medium.
Oguibe, who also hopes that more people will learn about the contributions of women through “Women of Substance,” described it as being “an installation using paintings.”
“It is one piece, one installation of work in progress, and not a body of work or group of paintings,” he said. “I prefer to refer to it as a ‘history installation,’ and it will continue to grow as a piece as I do more research and add more women to it.”
On Saturday, March 8, an artist talk will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“Women of Substance: Olu Oguibe” will be on display at the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning through March 22. JCAL is located at 161-04 Jamaica Avenue. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
For more information on the exhibition or JCAL, visit www.jcal.org or call 718-658-7400.