The Lay of the Land’ Explores Historical Perceptions of Femininity and the Natural World in the Artistic Canon
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition is inspired by travel made possible by SMFA at Tufts Traveling Fellowship
September 25, 2023
The works in Justice’s exhibition were influenced by travel to Paris and Florence, Italy, to study gendered power dynamics in portrayals of women in nineteenth century paintings. The research journey was sponsored by an SMFA Traveling Fellowship that Justice received from her alma mater, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (SMFA at Tufts).
provide critical early-career support for SMFA at Tufts alumni, allowing them to further develop and inform their practice. Selected by a jury, SMFA Traveling Fellowship recipients receive up to $10,000 to pursue travel and research related to their art practice. The application process is open to alumni working in any contemporary visual art discipline.
Justice’s exhibition is part of a long-standing collaboration between SMFA and the MFA. Through this collaboration, gallery space is dedicated to the work of SMFA at Tufts students or alumni each year. An exhibit last winter featured the works of recently graduated MFA students and current BFA students. The collaboration strengthens the relationship between the Museum and SMFA at Tufts, dating to SMFA’s 1876 founding, and spotlights the work of emerging artists.
“Dinorá Justice: The Lay of the Land” explores feminine figures, lush natural environments, and rich marbled patterns in strikingly original ways. Through her visual vocabulary, Justice considers how potent forces—women, nature, decoration—that have historically been laid claim to, destroyed, or disparaged might instead liberate, strengthen, and inspire.
Justice married the research she conducted on her travels with her longstanding interest in eco-feminism to produce a body of work that asks the viewer to consider critically the ways in which femininity and the natural world have often been linguistically and culturally conjoined—and the consequences of this association.
Her paintings are titled “after” works well known within the canon of Western art history by renowned nineteenth century European male artists, while her sculptures riff on ancient figurines that were often once boldly polychromatic and celebrated cycles of life.
The artist uses verdant greenery, colorful Brazilian fabric designs, and hand marbled canvases to remix these quintessential art historical forms. The result rejects supine or sculptural feminine figures as symbols of colonized territory or fodder for the male eye as imagined by her predecessors.
Instead, the artist’s use of pattern to anonymize and unify her subjects endows them with a degree of privacy and places them in interdependent dialogue with their outdoor settings.
The title of this exhibition is taken from a book of the same name published almost 50 years ago by feminist historian Annette Kolodny. To understand “the lay of the land” is to know an environment, literally or figuratively, whether the natural world or the web of human relationships in which we move every day.