Diatribe advances legacy of female artists

Establishing an artistic medium for creative output is of utmost importance to artists. For Diatribe, a group composed of local female artists, they have found theirs.

“Technically, Diatribe means a forceful, bitter attack towards someone or something. We loved the term so much after Rubie, one of our original members, rephrased it as a ‘witty response to society,’” Ashleigh Castro, fine art’s alumna and co-founder of Diatribe said. “We also liked that the term ‘tribe’ appeared in the word, because we are a little artistic family. The term refers a lot to criticism, something artists need and value in their work. We only have female artists because we’re all about the girl power.”

Formed in 2011 to celebrate women in the arts, media and social activism, Diatribe originally met through a SOMA based art collective, Inks of Truth. The members work together to put on affordable showcases and give exposure to underground artists.

Their current exhibition at the 5o Mason Social House entitled, “Smoke Signals” was inspired by the unofficial annual cannabis holiday known as 420. Some of the featured SF State exhibition artists include printmaker Nicki Lang; photographers Castro and Jenny Galipo; painters Briana Hodgin and Karen Zinkofsky. The art features images of smoke signals, the oldest form of visual communication that Native Americans used to connect with other tribes.

“For ‘Smoke Signals’ we showcased pieces that literally and figuratively went with the theme of smoke, and others we just wanted to show for giggles,” said Zinkofsky, a 20-year-old art education major. “I presented the ‘The Great Spirit’ in watercolor & acrylic, which is a bald eagle spreading its glorious wings embellished with Indian peace pipes. The other was ‘Even though death is inevitable a kiss will make it less painful,’ a quote from my friend Mark Figuroa, in acrylic, which shows a reindeer profile with mistletoe growing from its antlers.”

“Smoke Signals” presents an opportunity for women to showcase their artistic skills exclusively. Art historian and professor, Gwen Allen, recognizes the hardships young female artists at SF State have had to endure but looks beyond it as a wider issue.

“I think the challenges facing female artists at SFSU are similar to the ongoing challenges that face women more generally in the United States (such as) sexism, lack of equal pay and domestic violence.” Allen said. “My hope is that women everywhere, including artists, continue to fight for and achieve equal political, social and economic rights.”

The Bay Area has long been a positive historical catalyst for female artists. The first feminist art program was founded at Fresno State University in 1970 and the popular feminist installation “The Dinner Party” premiered at the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art in 1979, according to Allen.

“I feel very fortunate and rejuvenated to be a female artist in San Francisco, from fellow artists I’ve met while being here and seeing their artwork, it’s definitely given me a wider perspective on how far I can go within my own work,” Zinkofsky said.

Andrea Hassiba, art professor at SF State, says she can relate to the young, female artists of Diatribe. She used to be a part of an alternative arts group, 80 Langton Street. As a former female artist in San Francisco she notices the positive transformation in the art scene but still has advice for Diatribe and other up and coming female artists.

“Even though there is a huge change in the opportunities for women artists, all positive, there remains a certain amount of resistance from the public.” Hassiba said. “In general, it is, and remains, a man’s world. Women are accepted into the man’s world but it can be a struggle. Women artists have to be resilient and persistent.”

But Castro is hopeful that Diatribe can represent the women and make history as artists.

“I can’t speak for a painter but as a photographer I can say that in art history it’s mostly the male artists you learn about. But the female artists were rarer and for some reason their stories were always the most captivating,” Castro said. “And people become well aware of (female artists) due to legacy. So maybe we can create a legacy too.”

“Smoke Signals” will be featured in 50 Mason Social House until mid-June.