In Women’s Work: Suffrage Movements 1848-1965, Caitlin Cass reframes conversations of historic importance and addresses them with an accessible aesthetic, carrying on the centuries-long practice of political and social satire in comics, each segment direct and imbued with deep meaning.
Through image and word, Cass works in the tradition of both a single-panel experience and the longer form tale. The work is akin to the graphic novel, the culmination of which is a history book on suffrage and American political evolution.
Her work makes stories, people and issues that are pivotal to American history real and relatable, providing audiences with opportunities to find relevance to their continued impact today. It’s essential, too, because memories are flawed, the space between event and contemporary understanding of the truth is muddied.
Cass unites an installation-art practice with the political-comic. The resulting aesthetic perfectly manages the spaces between quirky, playful, and deeply serious. Cass takes icons from their pedestals. She compares, explores and presents them, extracting stories from the myths. In this way, we see them not as the heroes or villains of textbooks, but also as the human and the imperfect. In doing so, they become valuable models for what is still achievable.
The development of this work took place between March 2019 and August 2020, a timeframe that enabled Cass to consider current global events and allow conversations to rise to the fore. Since its inception, individual works were released and posted biweekly on the Burchfield Penney website and social media sites.
Women’s Work, is multi-faceted and exists as an online exhibition, installation and book. As we rely on texts for building and sharing knowledge, the accompanying publication will influence the way that we learn of the history that brings us to this moment.
This project, online and onsite, has been recognized with significant support from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment of the Arts.
Explore a self-guided virtual tour of this exhibition here.
Through the interwoven stories of women from three time periods, Women’s Work: Suffrage Movements 1848-1965 will recount the history of the movements that led to the ratification of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which helped secure voting rights for minorities. Rather than force separate narratives into a perfect line of progress, this comic will explore the diversity and cyclical nature of these struggles. The project will take visual cues from printed ephemera of the three different eras and will unfold in distinctly different styles, sometimes in three dimensions as banners and counterfeit ephemera. The story will remain rooted in research and history but magical realist elements will visualize and hyperbolize major themes in popular suffrage histories and tackle the racist undertones, infighting and female stereotypes perpetuated in the fight for suffrage. The comic will examine what is lost in the erasure of nuance for the sake of political expediency and remind us that Women’s Suffrage was not an inevitable mark of progress. Women fought, lost, fought, won, and fought again. — Caitlin Cass, 2019