Donna Karan has teamed with Mashonda Tifrere’s nonprofit Art Lead Her to put on an all-women exhibit called “King Woman” at Karan’s store and community space Urban Zen.
Pieces from Reisha Perlmutter, Delphine Diallo, Swoon and 12 other emerging and midcareer artists lined the walls of Urban Zen during a recent visit. Tifrere, dressed all in black just like Karan, pointed out one piece that especially moved her by Perlmutter. It’s a painting of a woman with vitiligo, her face peering above a pool of water in which her body’s submerged. Her hair is wet and slicked back.
“Reisha wanted to portray the woman in the portrait as strong and beautiful in her own skin,” Tifrere said. “On opening night, the woman came, and when she saw her picture hanging on the wall, she started bawling.”
There are individual stories like this one behind most of the pieces included in “King Woman”; Tifrere, who curated the showing, said it was imperative to forge relationships with the artists after selecting them to be part of the exhibition. She added she’d found all of them by looking around on Google and Instagram, then meeting them in person at art fairs.
With programming organized by Molly Krause, the effort behind “King Woman” is one of a number of recent pushes for female artists to be more visible. Just two weeks prior, Oprah Winfrey spoke at an all-woman exhibit and auction at Sotheby’s — the first of its kind for any major auction house. Tifrere and Karan said they feel a shift happening in the art world, one that involves women bolstering other women’s artwork and careers in the industry.
“In the past three years, I’ve seen more all-women shows than I’ve ever seen in my life,” Tifrere said. “The political climate is definitely forcing people to be advocates and support women in all arts.”
“I don’t think it’s always political,” Karan stated. “I think women are expressing themselves now, and they’re being seen and they’re being heard. There’s a heart and soul that comes out of a woman. I’m not saying it doesn’t come out of a man, but there’s a different thing. That’s OK. I think a woman’s emotions, that’s what’s being expressed right now.”
Karan said Tifrere approached her with an idea for the exhibition — but had only six or eight artworks for it.
“I kept thinking, I want more,” Karan said. “But I love her eye. The beauty of what we have is Mashonda having seen the artists and then editing. It’s always easier for me to look at a piece of art and say what I like and what I don’t like.”
“What I learn from Donna is how to embrace the pressure, the push and wanting to make it the best it can be,” Tifrere concluded. “How dare I bring something mediocre [to Urban Zen]? It has to fit the aesthetic, not only visually, but the vibe, the soul. The work always has to match up to that.”
“King Woman” will be on display at 705 Greenwich Street through April 7.