Becoming a mother and engaging in nature-based residency projects brought a revelation to Ashley Cecil and her work as an artist. Her vision of the parallels between the oppression of women and the domination of nature informs the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based artist’s work in Land That I Love. The exhibition is Sept 7, 2023-Jan 6, 2024 in the Haley Gallery of the Albany Museum of Art.
“Ashley Cecil’s work is beautiful and feminine, but most of all delicate,” AMA Director of Curatorial Affairs Katie Dillard said. “The quality of her works is part of her message; and is a demand for better care, for both the environment and for all women. She brings together huge elements of feminism and environmentalism, often blurring the line between the two, and making their significance inseparable.”
While society purports to cherish and honor women and nature, both are abused in strikingly similar ways, Cecil says. “Both are religiously sanctioned as property, legislated against, denigrated into submission, their beauty monetized, and their fertility systematically policed,” she said. While respect for God and family, including daughters, mothers, and wives, were spoken of as she was growing up, the onset of womanhood “transformed reverence to rancor.”
“Once a woman is perceived to be a magnet and focal point of sin, many will try to control her appearance, body, voice, and identity,” Cecil said. “Female fertility is a particularly poignant lightning rod since nothing is more powerful than the ability to incubate life.”
As an adult, a series of residencies at science and conservatory institutions sparked within her a new understanding of the divine and its female incarnations, Cecil said. “I witnessed how prolific, intelligent, resilient, generous, and just Mother Nature is,” she said. “It became obvious that Earth is a body with waterways like a vascular system and an undulating surface like skin stretched over bone, folding in the crevices. Now, I cannot unsee these parallels in appearance, function, and in society’s blatant disregard. From dowries and debts to deeds, we shed blood over seizure and control of the bodies of women and nature.”
Cecil specializes in paintings and sculptural works of flora, fauna, and feminine forms that illustrate connections between the natural world and its human inhabitants. Her love affair with all things organic and wild blossomed as the result of studying landscapes with accomplished master painters in London while earning her master’s degree at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, immersing herself in nature-inspired decorative arts collections in European museums, and painting from live observation at conservation institutions such as the National Aviary.
Her fervor for artistic interpretations of the state of life on this planet has landed Cecil many exciting opportunities, including creating a commissioned artwork for Oxfam America that was exhibited at a United Nations convention on climate change, a six-month artist residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and traveling to the Amazon rainforest to participate in the art-immersion program Labverde.