In Crystal Bridges’ current temporary exhibition Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, artists respond to Superman and Wonder Woman in their art. In preparation for the show, we asked several artists featured in the exhibition to describe what these superheroes mean to them and why they chose to feature them in their work. Here are a few of those responses:
My interest in Wonder Woman lies less in the character and more in the specific individual who portrayed her on television – actress Lynda Carter. She is of Mexican ancestry (like myself) and since my 1970s/80s childhood, this fact has not been lost on me. In both pieces, I was thinking about the dual mirror-like political landscapes of the 1970s and today. The drawn references to the Nixon presidency, to barbed wire and chain link fences, is in stark contrast to Wonder Woman’s/Carter’s presence as a strong female and cultural symbol devoid of boundaries, and representative, within these works, of both political dissent and resistance. – Vincent Ramos
I first discovered American comics in 1973 at the age of six and they immediately exerted a powerful hold over my imagination. Superheroes were vastly important to me throughout my childhood and continue to be significant. A classic superhero trope involves the victory of the hero against seemingly insurmountable odds. As often as not the hero’s superpowers alone are insufficient to achieve victory but their innate human characteristics such as determination, hope, trust, and empathy are the factors that allow them to finally succeed. Anybody struggling to survive as an artist will recognize the essential truth of this narrative structure. – Simon Monk
I first saw Superman in 1978, when I was seven years old with my family in Isfahan, Iran. The metaphor of flight left a profound impression on me. Particularly, his cape reminded me of the chador (Farsi for hijab) that my grandmother, Haj-khanom, wore. When the 1978-79 Islamic revolution began, we fled Iran as a family and never returned. I was never able to see my grandparents again. I identified with his irreparable loss of family and homeland. Years later in my art, I transformed the Superman of my childhood into a Super East-West Woman whose chador turns into a cape of agency. – Aphrodite Desiree Navab
Since the beginning of time, we continue to seek comfort in a life we have little control over. Our culture loves superheroes, godlike figures that we tend to put on pedestals. We celebrate these iconic symbols impervious to harm. What we often overlook is another important dimension to their character-their vulnerability, a quality that makes us truly human. My grandmother was a wonder woman to me. Her heroic battle with Alzheimer’s Disease left her vulnerable. In my work Wintered Fields, I wanted to contrast her age and predicament with this symbolic costume to show both the heroism and vulnerability of the human condition. – Jason Yarmosky
Rajé came about as a result of two things: having children and being at Toys R Us’ and standing in line trying to fight people to get Power Rangers, and then realizing that, “Whoa… there are no black superheroes here”. There was only Storm, and Storm is racially ambiguous to say the least.
The character was born out of my research of William Moulton Marston’s Wonder Woman. I found that there was actually a black Wonder Woman named “Nubia” who appeared on a few comic book covers back in the 1960s. I decided to take artistic license and create Rajé as her ancestor–her granddaughter. – Renee Cox
See Superman and Wonder Woman before they fly away! Men of Steel, Women of Wonder is on view at Crystal Bridges through April 22.