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Allyson Mitchell has created an alternate world, a towering female community in the woods. “Lady Sasquatch is your dream girl, only bigger and hairier – and she might eat you if you don’t look out.” | photo: Cat O’Neil

Allyson Mitchell has created an alternate world, a towering female community in the woods. “Lady Sasquatch is your dream girl, only bigger and hairier – and she might eat you if you don’t look out.” | photo: Cat O’Neil

Reviews

the arts Ladies Sasquatch cross Canada!

by Jude MacDonald | April 9, 2009

Allyson Mitchell’s exhibition, Ladies Sasquatch, recently ended at the McMaster Museum of Art. The ladies are now making their way to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. There, in May, they will once again display their fierce charms, along with some massive female bonding. Then they lumber to Lethbridge and, finally, Peterborough.

The show’s curator is Carla Garnet. This is how she describes the hulking, soft, scary, sweet figures that tower over visitors:

Part teddy bear, part forest beast, Mitchell’s Ladies Sasquatch reveal themselves free from the construction of the male gaze. The mythical space that they inhabit is both created and populated by pure, unbridled feminine energy, and these women are not in service of the male-dominated city-stated – they live in the bush!

— Carla Garnet, in the catalogue essay Allyson Mitchell: Ladies Sasquatch, Theory and Practice

The ladies display what has been described as a feral sexuality, one blending feminist theory with fun fur you want to pet.

In 2002, the artistic version of Dr. Frankenstein asked a question: How come no one has ever seen a Lady Sasquatch? Her answer was to create an alternate world – a beautifully monstrous female community in the woods that counters the myth of the solo male with a party.

The sasquatches are a visual pun and a manifestation of homophobic fears of actual lesbians. They are big, fat hairy dykes ...

— Josephine Mills, The answer is two years spent baking vulva-shaped cookies or On Understanding Lesbian Representation

The six women-animals – named Silverback, Tawny, Midge, Maxy, Bunny and Oxana – are joined by 21 tiny pink creature-confections. These “familiars” sit on shoulders, perch on palms, gather around giant feet, and warm themselves by a central fire. They represent the tiny-voiced femininity that mainstream culture screams we should dream to be. Allyson Mitchell described the scene this way to The Canadian Press: “On the one end, you've got these giant monsters – hairy, smelly, terrifying – and, on the other end of the scale, you've got these tiny, sweet, cupcake pink, Martha Stewart social disasters, as well.”

This show explores gender, stereotypes, identity, sexuality, power and image. And it invites the viewer into the exploration. The sculptures are raised on a sprawling platform, so visitors are able to walk into the exhibit, getting up close and personal with both the sasquatches and the familiars. To become part of what’s happening in the forest clearing.

The pieces themselves are made of fun fur – a lot of it – taxidermy supplies, and details the artist took from abandoned 1970s craft projects she found in second-hand shops. According to Ann Cvetkovich, Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, this approach is “another way of referencing previous generations of feminism but via the domestic styles that might not readily be associated with revolutionary activism.”

This cobbling together of eras and approaches is part of the artist’s overall philosophy, which she calls Deep Lez, through which “we can band together to imagine and realize our way out of this dysfunctional habitat – to create new ecologies, new policies and new lifestyles without war, poverty, violence and waste.”

Lady Sasquatch is your dream girl, only bigger and hairier – and she might eat you if you don’t look out.

— Allyson Mitchell, Canadian Art interview

This show leaves us wondering: Is that a threat, or a promise?

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    There was supposed to be a new approach to the Correctional Service of Canada’s relationship to female offenders, who were promised responsible choices, respect, dignity, supportive environments, and shared responsibility. But on the night of April 26, eight women experienced humiliation, degradation, raw fear and trauma at the hands of an all-male emergency team. How did this happen? What has changed since?  read more