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All Over the Map

Raices Taller's last show in its current location shows off the work of women

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Cortni King's "Mi Corazón: Hombres" is exactly the kind of piece you'd expect to find in a show of women's art in a Latino gallery.

Shaped by the sensibilities of Hispanic religious folk art, it's a shrine patched together from everyday found objects. The heart of the title is made of fragments of steel, colored the deep purples and reds of a bruise. Suspended inside a plain wooden shadow box, it's surrounded by sharp spikes that mimic the rays of every painted Virgin of Guadalupe.

But this bleeding heart, so like Jesus in a million Latino paintings, takes on feminist attitude. Those hombres of the title may have broken it, but with its protective thorns all grown in, the heart can take care of itself just fine.

"Corazón" is just one of more than 40 pieces in the summer group show Mujeres, Mujeres, Mujeres at Raices Taller 222, the co-op gallery that exhibits primarily Hispanic artists and themes. It's joined by "Xoloitzcuintle," a gold-and-brown monoprint inspired by Aztec myth. Mexican-born painter Cristina Cardenas has conjured up the muscular dog said to guide humans through the underworld. Adriana Yadira Gallego, a UA-trained artist who had a one-woman show last summer at the Tucson Museum of Art, reprises one of her lovely liquid acrylics on wood about life on the border. In "Patrimonio," crying baby birds roost in the curves of silver barbed wire.

But this invitational show highlights women artists of all ethnicities, and these works turn out to be Latina exceptions in an exhibition that ranges all over the map. Literally, in a few cases.

Canadian painter Rowesa Gordon came south with a series of high-pop pics in hot colors, and former UA prof Melanie Yazzie, now in Colorado, sent along "Layers of Thought," a monoprint abstracted into thin, nearly transparent fleurs de lis, arranged into layers of dusty violet.

There's even an entry from Ireland, of all unexpected places. L. Deborah Healy, a member of an artists' co-op in County Kerry, contributed two small acrylics on paper. "Cottages With Stone Walls I" and "II" revisualize the traditional Irish cottage, converting its fields, walls and roofs into a blocky pattern of white, ocher, gray and, of course, green.

Most of the women, though, are closer to home. Quite a few well-known Tucson artists accepted the invitation to show in the feisty little gallery, now about 10 years old. Joy Fox of Rancho Linda Vista is exhibiting "Dreadnaught," one of her trademark human/animal figures in clay, this one goat-like, with passages of raw terra cotta color alternating with a delicate pale green.

Ann Simmons-Myers, head of the photography program at Pima Community College (and who now has her arresting Bikers photos in black and white in a one-woman show at TMA), here checks in with an elegiac triptych. "Ghost Relatives I, II, III" reuses old photographs on glass negatives, and their images of long-gone people--an old man with a long white beard, a girl in an elaborate dress--are dreamily printed on gold-toned paper.

Not surprisingly, many of the artists explored explicitly female themes. Mariah Lutich, tackling the quintessential subject of childbirth, made a plaster body cast of a pregnant belly--presumably her own--and fashioned it into the kicky "Sky Minus Three Days." The belly is painted sky blue; the breasts are adorned with white clouds; and the baby signals her/his arrival through an anatomically incorrect opening right below the navel. A life-size photo of a real newborn's face pushes through the slit, conflating the period of waiting with the cataclysm of birth itself.

Darla Masterson, a longtime Pima art prof, takes on the opposite end of a woman's gynecological life. Her delicate "Closed for Repair" is a drypoint etching stitched with silver threads obliquely depicting the aftermath of a vaginal surgery.

UA student Katherine Estrella painted a lovely vision of youth, "Perfume de Azucenas," an oil and acrylic of a blooming young woman among pink lilies. Emily Stern Düwel, another RLV'er, also turned to adolescence in "Two Girls on the Phone," but this light subject gets an engagingly dark treatment. The dark figures of the girls are silhouetted against a foreboding architectural space, with stairs and walls cutting off easy exits. By contrast, "Prom," an installation by Shirley Oppenheimer, is pure fun.

For a piece riffing on the traditional female arts of stitchery and costume, the artist apparently went on a vintage shopping spree. On hangers are four short gowns in luscious colors and fetching styles--a mint-green lace dress with a dropped waist, a royal blue-and-black off-shoulder number, a tomato-red satin with a full skirt and a pale pink brocade with an asymmetrical waist. Oppenheimer has matched each with an appropriate pair of heels--shiny blue, glittery black--and invited gallery-goers to share their own prom tales in a nearby notebook.

Posted nearby is an entertaining story by Judith Ziemer about her 1961 prom. In her memories, her dress (baby-blue organdy) wins hands down over her date.

Lisa Caroline Galli turns serious in "Art of Place," a wonderful mixed-media wall sculpture of a woman's corpse. Made of what looks like the earth itself, her skin is as textured and brown as soil. In death, she's folded up, her head and arms collapsing down onto her legs, like a rag doll. It suggests both environmental degradation and the all-too-frequent deaths in the desert, in which the body merges into the earth.

Mujeres is Raices' last show in its space at 222. As of July 31, the gallery is moving a few doors up to a smaller, cheaper space in the same building. The building's owners, a partnership formed by the owners of Santa Theresa Tile Works and Wheat Scharf Associates landscape architects, have been "bending over backwards for us," says Ceci Garcia of Raices. "They're real supporters of the arts."

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