Recasting Rosie the Riveter

Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock juxtapose contemporary women and the making of the U.S. women’s rights movement in their newest exhibit, “Rosie Won the War,” in the Kimmel Windows Gallery.

The Kimmel Center for University Life's window gallery show "Rosie Won the War." (Staff Photo by Jorene He)

Portraits of women in power poses woo passersby at the intersection of LaGuardia Place and West Third Street, courtesy of artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock. Their exhibit “Rosie Won the War” in the Kimmel Windows is a modern take on Norman Rockwell’s lasting “Rosie the Riveter.”

The exhibit, which has been in the works for the past two and a half years, is sponsored by Ulrich Baer, Vice Provost of Faculty, Arts, Humanities and Diversity at NYU. The 13-piece exhibit consists of portraits and a memorandum from Hilary Lewis, Chief Curator and Creative Director of the Glass House. 

The life-size portraits feature the modern woman wearing blue-collar, World War II era clothing derived from her current profession, juxtaposing the clothing worn by the women in the portraits with their careers. The result is a take on gender norms: Barbara, an architect and associate professor at the University of Texas, is dressed as a welder while Tanja, an art historian and director at the Max Planck Institute of Art History, is dressed as a cartographer. 

“Inspiring people through real-life portraits of real-life women who are doing amazing things in the context of our own layered histories can’t help but make a person feel excited about the future,” curator of the Kimmel Windows and GSAS alumna Pamela Jean Tinnen said. “We’ve made some amazing advancements for both women’s rights and also science and technology.”

The women are framed by battle maps and inventions from World War II along with a caption detailing advancements made in the war thanks to women and the actual careers of those photographed. Mixing playful colors and lighthearted facial expressions, the irony in the pieces does not detract from the seriousness of the message but rather enhances it. 

“It’s more fun to play off of this idea,” Tinnen said. “If you remember the original ‘Rosie the Riveter,’ it was playful. They’re taking that into their photoshoots and having that play with this idea of gender in the way they’re staging the artists and the way they’re designing the artwork around that, and I think that’s a more effective way to engage audiences.” 

Each portrait was carefully chosen from the greater exhibit of 21 pieces, and many were selected specifically since they depict women from the New York City area. Timed to fall in line with Rosie the Riveter Day on March 21, established with a Senate resolution in 2017, the exhibit is meant to celebrate women whose role in society has since evolved. The artists intend to portray women as dynamic and intelligent, dominating any and every field, and tie their work into the larger feminist movement.

“You know, in today’s so-often divisive political climate, and with so much upsetting news every day it seems, it’s really wonderful to have these Rosies on view for the NYU community, and for the public at large,” Tinnen said. “If something can inspire you and make you smile or laugh at the same time, that’s a pretty good thing!”

“Rosie Won the War” is on display at the Kimmel Windows Gallery until March 22. 

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 11,  2019, print edition. Email Aashna Agarwal at [email protected]

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