In the Loop
Alumni News : Jun 11, 2015

John Westmark solo exhibition explores restraints of gender roles

By Ashby Strauch

The work of John Westmark (MFA Painting ’05) was recently on display at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina, in his large, solo exhibition, Narratives. The Gibbes Museum of Art is currently closed for a $15 million renovation this year. His exhibition is an extension of his Double Bind series for which he was honored by the museum with its Elizabeth and Mallory Factor Prize for Southern Art in January 2012. The Gibbes Museum of Art awards the Factor Prize to artists whose work shows the highest level of artistic achievement in any media while also contributing to a new understanding of art in the south.

I'm greatly influenced by the South's rich storytelling culture, and how the stories we've grown up hearing usually impart a moral or lesson,” said Westmark.

Double Bind was created on store-bought paper with sewing patterns. The work depicts faceless women wearing dresses featuring text that is influenced by feminist writers. These figures tell a powerful narrative of women dismantling the traditional perception of women’s work and identity through their resolute and rebellious movements. Westmark hid the identities of the women for the purpose of ambiguity so the viewer does not identify with the skin, eye or hair color of the women. The facial expression of the women is not shown so that the viewer focuses on the bodily expression.           

“The inspiration behind exploring gender roles is mostly about making work with my daughters in mind,” said Westmark. “They are my ‘ideal’ audience, and referencing feminism and gender inequalities is my way of telling a cautionary tale to them. What obstacles are in store for them? How will they navigate the world of gender bias? Will they add or erase a legacy?”

In Westmark’s current exhibition he continues to explore the restraints of gender roles and how they have shifted over time.           

“I'm still working on the Double Bind series and don't see an end point yet,” said Westmark. “The time spent working with the same media allows for a high degree of mastery with an unorthodox and often unruly material. I'm fortunate to experience an ever narrowing gap between intention and outcome.”       

To see more of Westmark’s work, visit