There have been so many social-issue shows lately, with subject matter as wide-ranging as politics, drugs, the environment, terrorism and gender stereotypes, that they threaten to become a little wearing; the gallery-goer may begin to approach them with a certain amount of "cause" fatigue.
Surprise: "Woman as Protagonist," just opened at Goucher College's Rosenberg Gallery, is less of a cause show, at least in a sociopolitical sense, than it may sound. One could certainly put together a strong show that advocates a specific agenda, such as pro-choice, equal opportunity, etc., but this is not it.
The works here are not primarily calls to action. Rather, they show women examining their own strengths and resources, taking pride in their womanhood -- from the physical to the archetypal -- and seeking to create a world view in which woman occupies the hierarchy from child to self-sufficient individual to protector to procreator to goddess.
The show contains works by 23 artists, working in different ways in different states from New York to Texas; but they have been selected and presented, by Helen Glazer and Karen Acker, so that they add up to an integrated, logical whole.
Judy Southerland, Mary Kunaniec Skeen, Carolyn Stachowski and Shireen Holman deal with woman as child -- from the uncertainty of stepping into the world essentially alone to the fond or wistful memories of childhood's pleasures and safety.
Bette Alexander and Gina Pierleoni deal with woman as protector and protected, although Pierleoni's two works here acknowledge both the possibilities and the limits of what human beings can do for one another.
The establishing of identity comes through most clearly in works by Claudia DeMonte, Stacy Duncan, Robyn Johnson-Ross and Martha Tabor -- whether that identity comes from work, creativity and/or breaking stereotypes: the recognition and rejection of the roles one is expected to play.
Melba Robbins Northum, Kathy B. Keler, Lynn Schmidt and Susanne Okamoto deal with woman's sexual and procreative identity. The related procreator roles as goddess and as the giver of selfhood to woman are addressed by Keler, Chevelle Makeba Moore, Okamoto, Valerie Dearing and Breon Gilleran.
Julie Saecker Schneider, whose drawing is the most traditional work in the show, also presents woman as protagonist in the sense closest to the dictionary definition of the "main character [in a story] around whom the action centers" -- specifically as the biblical heroine Judith.
In addition to the sensitively selected works themselves, the show includes a catalog (slightly delayed, but available later this week, it is hoped) complete with essay, pictures and checklist. There are not many galleries around here that do as well as this.
The show continues through April 29 at the Rosenberg Gallery of Goucher College, Dulaney Valley Road, north of Towson. Call (410) 337-6333.