Tucked into one of the oldest buildings in South Dallas is WAAS Gallery, a much-needed space where women can exhibit the artwork that they want to make. Women have been struggling to receive as much recognition as men in the art world for as long as art has been a thing — but in today’s world of widespread feminism, it’s easy to think that this problem has been solved. This is far from true: WAAS founder Brandy Michele Adams has discovered that in today’s art world, only 5% of exhibited work is created by women. But Adams is in the process of changing that statistic, one exhibition at a time.
She’s been executing that change at WAAS, which stands for We Are All Stars, for exactly eight years. The gallery is an opportunity for women to find their foothold in art, in an environment that won’t judge, question or force the artistic paths these women are making. Nearly a decade of great art by women is culminating this month in Adams’ new exhibition Release Your Voice, which is a celebration both of WAAS’s birthday and of the progress women are slowly but surely making in contemporary art.
The exhibition opens Saturday, Sept. 14, with a wild opening reception from 7:30 to 10 p.m. And the opening is going to break boundaries in more ways than one. Yes, the show exhibits artwork by brilliant women from all around the country, and every piece of art will in itself break a boundary of expression. These women are, as Adams calls them, “disruptors.”
But this show, and specifically the opening reception, is also unique in its presentation of artwork. The reception will feature live music and a pelting of glitter from Bioglitz, makers of biodegradable glitter. “This is beyond paintings hanging on a wall,” Adams says of her curation. Who wouldn’t want to spend their Saturday night watching live performances, getting covered in glitter that doesn’t do the environment any harm and supporting women artists to boot?
But for those who (for some bizarre reason) want to avoid the glitter fest on Saturday, Adams offers other opportunities to appreciate the works she’s brought together. In a style atypical for an art gallery, WAAS offers wellness events, talks and workshops every Saturday for the exhibit’s duration until Oct. 12. In these events, Adams combines the appreciation of art with the empowerment and care of oneself.
Release Your Voice isn’t a battleground for women to fight their way into the art world: Adams is tired of the notion of fighting in the realm of feminism. Rather, she’s creating a space where no fight is needed. “How are we going to receive the love, willingness or openness if we continue to fight instead of starting conversations?” she asks. And releasing your voice is all that’s needed to start a conversation.
This has been a part of WAAS’s philosophy for some time. Earlier this year Adams joined with frequent collaborator Corinne Loperfido (also a contributor to ‘Release Your Voice’) for a show called On My Period. The title is not remotely euphemistic. Menstruation rarely receives positive recognition in day-to-day conversation, let alone in the media. By creating a show that explicitly and honestly considers periods in both their beauty and their horror, Adams and Loperfido were able to start dissolving a long-held taboo and open a new conversation. A conversation about periods, when held in all honesty, reveals no small amount of wonder. As Adams says: “If a woman really understood the power of her womb and her menstruation, then she might be able to empower herself even within a room when a person makes her feel ‘less than’ because of her period.”
But a conversation doesn’t have to be as seemingly scandalous as menstruation in order to be meaningful and empowering. At WAAS, Adams welcomes women to say whatever needs to be said, about whatever topic. In her experience, she’s witnessed more women answering commission calls than having the art they want to make exhibited in collections. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with finding one’s voice within a commissioned piece; but Adams wants to offer a platform for women both to ask themselves, “What do I want,” and even more radically, to satisfy that question.
It’s taken Adams herself a long time to understand what she as a woman wants, but it seems she’s always chased that question with the fearlessness needed for a woman to disrupt the stale patterns of our patriarchal world. “I’m a small town girl from Grand Prairie,” Adams says, but she’s far exceeded her humble roots. Starting in her early 20s, she became a celebrity makeup artist in Hollywood, working with big names like David LaChapelle and Britney Spears. Painting faces became her artistic platform.
And yet, these days, Adams spends much of her time in her gallery in South Dallas. For all the courage it takes to uproot oneself, move to Los Angeles, and start using celebrities’s faces as a canvas, it takes even more courage to return to Texas and find what you really want right there, at home. But this is what Adams did when she opened WAAS Gallery in 2011. “The art world called to me when I was ready to master something new,” Adams says of her transition from celebrity makeup artist to gallery-owner and curator.
And master something new she has: one needs only to witness her work at WAAS to understand that.