Nov 4, 2023 - Nov 25, 2023

The Strangest Adventures

Gabrielle Reeves

Istanbul Concept Studio

Tomtom Mah. Nur-u Ziya Sk. No:27/2
34433 Beyoglu, Istanbul, TR

“For now she need not think of anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of - to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others... and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”
― Virginia Woolf, "To the Lighthouse"

"The Strangest Adventures" delves into the multifaceted female experience within a historical and contemporary context. Through a series of paintings and drawings, I aim to unravel the interconnectedness of personal and collective histories, focusing my lens on the juxtaposition of Turkey and Wyoming as symbolic landscapes.  Within these diverse geographies, both of which have shaped my identity, I am fascinated by the intricate layers of play, family, and place. Like wild territories, these locations have seemingly unconstrained potential, yet they too are governed by societal norms that can stifle the human spirit. In "The Strangest Adventures,” I play with contrasting elements — the allure of danger and the pull of conformity.

The women portrayed in this exhibition take up their space boldly. They represent strength and independence, and are liberated from external constraints and expectations. Through the use of equestrian imagery, western narratives and water “The Strangest Adventures” chronicles the remarkable audacity of women from opposite sides of the world who dare to live outside societal norms. “The Strangest Adventures” is an invitation for viewers to reflect upon the transformative power of defying limitations, paving the way for a future where all women can fully embrace their authentic selves and embark on their own remarkable adventures.

One significant theme in "The Strangest Adventures" is the profound connection between the rider and the horse. Horses hold a special place in the imagination of a child, evoking a sense of wonder and awe, as the horse is a strong symbol of freedom and expression.  The process of breaking a horse can be seen as a parallel to the experience of individuals trying to find their way in a world that may not always align with their natural inclinations. Breaking aids a horse’s ability to navigate its environment, involving a process of conforming, adapting, and sometimes even suppressing aspects of our true selves to fit external pressures and norms.

In the act of breaking a horse, there is an underlying element of teaching love and loyalty, similarly to how women are often expected to love their environment and embrace their assigned "place" within society. This can place restrictions on women, their choices, and their opportunities. I aim to explore and question these dynamics, inviting viewers to critically examine the notion of conformity, its impact on individuals, and the complexities of their relationships with the environments they inhabit. I hope to foster discussions around the lingering societal pressures placed on women and the dichotomy between finding one's own agency while still navigating these imposed boundaries.  

The early 1900s saw shifting roles of women in the western rodeo scene. Cowgirls were a formidable presence in disciplines such as steer roping and bronc riding in Wyoming through the 1920s.  However, a transition from the rodeo cowgirl to a more feminized image of the "rodeo queen," driven by a complex interplay involving public sentiment, societal expectations, and gender bias was underway.  Some historians point to the tragic death of a renowned bronc rider in 1929 as a catalyst for this cultural shift, yet the rodeo establishment’s interest in preserving traditional gender norms, unequal pay to female competitors, and the systematic exclusion of women from main events through the formation of the Rodeo Cowboy Association in 1936, further marginalized women within the sport.  Although women were eventually reintegrated into rodeo competitions, being confined to a narrow range of events effectively curbed their opportunities to showcase their skills and challenge gender stereotypes.  Through my artwork, I explore the tension between women's early accomplishments and their subsequent marginalization within the rodeo arena, delving into the complexities of this history to raise awareness of the challenges that persist for women in traditionally male-dominated spaces.

“The Strangest Adventures,” also explores the empowering act of women swimming as an integral part of their daily routine. In particular, I focus on the Bosphorus in Istanbul, where women join together for their ritual swim. The act of exercise not only generates physical strength, but also cultivates presence, attention, and empowerment. The presence of women immersed in and surrounded by water, symbolizing a harmonious relationship between the figure and the natural world. However, it is important to acknowledge that society’s norms and expectations have often limited women’s freedom to move with ease in public spaces without fear of scrutiny or objectification.

This exhibition also showcases my own artistic journey, incorporating paintings and drawings created during my personal adventures and growth as an artist. My work features a diverse range of materials, techniques, and found objects, reflecting the integration of various artistic elements that have influenced and shaped my artistic style. I believe in the power of process and aim to incorporate it as part of the exhibition experience.  The inclusion of found objects into my work further adds a distinct element, in which I bridge the gap between art and everyday life.  This integration of materials, techniques, and personal artistic progression invites viewers to contemplate the interconnectedness of art, personal growth, and the extraordinary adventures that shape our lives.

With this exhibition I hope to inspire conversations that challenge existing narratives and propel us toward a more equitable and inclusive future.

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Gabrielle Reeves, "Rodeo 2", 2023, Acrylic ink on marbled paper, 31 x 20 cm.

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