On the morning of June 24, Paula Saponaro broke into tears from news that would change womens’ lives for the foreseeable future. Roe v. Wade had officially been overturned.
“I can’t even imagine what that feels like for someone who is just coming into their own … and to have it usurped like that,” Saponaro said.
Immediately after the news hit her ears, Saponaro opened up the dusty file she’d locked away for years and created her current exhibition, Redux. She banged out one of her most abstract collages “Rules for Women Only” in merely two days, filled with a mixture of emotions.
“It was literally like an exorcism of a sort,” she said. “[‘Rules for Women Only’] was really a capture of pure cynicism, and I just wanted to do it in a way that would be inclusive of the moment and the past as well.”
These raw, emotional feelings are exactly what Saponaro was aiming for when she created this show. She does not claim to be a hardcore feminist and reiterates that this is not what the show is about.
“I thought, OK, if this can be of any interest or impact, or just maybe give people a different way of thinking about things,” Saponaro explained. “Because for me that’s what art’s about anyways.”
The 71-year-old artist, originally from Detroit, now lives in Carson City. She’s played with plenty of mediums over the years. She focused more on landscapes and architectural renderings before she stepped back from her career in 2019 to take care of her mother.
For this show, however, Arika Perry, her friend and fellow artist, convinced her to create some work that rings more personally. She stepped outside of her comfort zone to publicly highlight the political and social issues of gender inequality.
“My compulsion to do thematically related storytelling, metaphorical or allegorical work, that’s where my head is,” she explained. “There’s something so serendipitous about how [the show] all came together.”
Some of Saponaro’s collage pieces feature vintage ads from the 40s and 50s. In her oil or acrylic pieces, she creates intimate images of women’s bodies. Both of these aesthetic choices seem to reference her own story. She got pregnant at the age of 18, when she was unmarried, and lived as a single mother under the thumb of disappointed parents during the late 60s and early 70s. She was expected to get married, and only men were expected to have careers. But she wanted more. That yearning shines through in the women she portrays.
“Women have capacities and intentions and inherent knowledge,” Sapanaro said. “We’re life givers. … And to not have enough respect for a woman and to revert to the male-dominated [stuff] … is such a traumatic, regressive step.”
She started playing with what she calls her “women” in the late 80s, dabbling with ideas and themes for them. “Study for Zygote,” the painting of a pregnant woman, is a reflection from her early years when she was pregnant. She painted “Hysteria” after getting a hysterectomy.
“Foetal Purgatory” Saponaro doesn’t even remember doing, but the baby this piece portrays has blue skin—much like she did when she was born breech.
She puts her personal thoughts into the work, in one way or another, but she doesn’t want to force her viewers’ eyes on a negative message.
“I don’t want any of this work to appear to be didactic, to be preachy, to be full of angst and anger,” Saponaro explained. “I do want it to be thought-provoking.”
Paula Saponaro’s exhibition, Redux is on view at St. Mary’s Art Center in Virginia City along with A. Perry’s exhibition Rise. Resist. Repeat. through Nov. 28. The reception for both shows is on Saturday, Oct. 15, 1-4 pm.
Photos: Jaedyn Young
This article was funded by a grant from the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.