AICHO art show features works by women of color

On Wednesday afternoon, it was possible that the paint was still wet on Karen Savage's submission to "Phenomenal," an upcoming art exhibition of works by women of color.

Zamara Cuyun, a Minneapolis artist with Guatemalan roots, has two pieces in "Phenomenal," an exhibition of artwork by women of color at AICHO. Submitted photo.
Zamara Cuyun, a Minneapolis artist with Guatemalan roots, has two pieces in "Phenomenal," an exhibition of artwork by women of color at AICHO. Click on the photo for the full view. Submitted photo.
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On Wednesday afternoon, it was possible that the paint was still wet on Karen Savage's submission to "Phenomenal," an upcoming art exhibition of works by women of color.

The topic is just as fresh.

Savage, moved by the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., created "End of the Day." The piece, set in a forest, shows four parents in varying stages of letting go - or not letting go. One clings to a blue sphere, another holds his like a snow globe. One put his hand next to the image of a child's hand within the sphere, and another lets hers float away with a path of butterflies. There are 17 spheres - one for each of the people who died in the mid-February attack.

"What does it look like when your child is no longer here," Savage said.

Savage is one of the more than 30 artists who submitted work to the exhibition at the Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center in downtown Duluth. The opening reception for "Phenomenal" - 5:30 p.m. Saturday - also will include a ceremony honoring 10 women who have been involved with the development of the American Indian Community Housing Organization, or AICHO.


As for the show: It's about time, Savage said.

"When it comes to women in the arts, it's a challenge for us to be on the same level as our peers," Savage said. "We need more of these to help females get better footing."

Carla Hamilton's "Mia the Conqueror" is a mixed-media piece and is part of "Phenomenal," which opens Saturday at AICHO.

The art

AICHO put out a call for art by female-identifying artists who are indigenous, black, Latinx and/or Asian, and pieces that considered womanhood or feminism in relation to culture.

"A lot of times women of color are in the background of things and never fully recognized for the work they put in," said Moira Villiard, programming director at AICHO.

There is a lot of talk right now about equity in feminism, she said, and the gallery is at a point where its keepers can be intentional about the kind of work they are showing.


"We're trying hard in our programming to be on top of pressing issues," she said.

The exhibition includes more than 40 works by local and regional artists with varying levels of name recognition. And the mediums range from paintings to photography to quilt-work and three-dimensional pieces.

And as the pieces started coming in: "My knees went weak," said Ivy Vainio, climate and cultural resilience coordinator at AICHO. "Every time I see them. They're so beautiful, cultural and phenomenal."

Featured artists

Among the featured artists:

• Zamara Cuyun, a Guatemalan-American painter, has two bold-colored acrylic pieces in a style that incorporates mythology.

• Leah Yellowbird, whose work is frequently featured in the gallery, has a three-dimensional animal head with jutting antlers and her signature bead-like painting.

• Nina O'Leary, a Twin Cities-based photographer, has an image of the hair that collected in her shower.


• Cherie Hamilton has two paint-on-quilt pieces.

• Carla Hamilton worked in collage.

AICHO staff members, too, are in the show: Villiard, who is known for her pop-culture portrait work, has an image of Erykah Badu that she painted with her left hand while her favored hand was out of commission after a repetitive use injury. Vainio, a photographer, has an image of Terresa Hardaway, taken at the Women's March, and another of a woman breastfeeding.


The women who are being honored at the opening reception range from those who were involved with AICHO from its beginning, to newer, fully-committed volunteers. Each will receive a plaque, designed by Villiard, and a secret yet-to-be-revealed surprise.

The honorees include:

• Mary Ann Walt, who dreamed of an affordable and safe housing for Native American women and ultimately created what would become AICHO.

• Victoria Ybanez, a founding member who was on the first board of directors and later became AICHO's first executive director.

• Marlene Diver is an original founding board member and ultimately served from 1993-99.

• Karen Diver was a founding board member and treasurer.

• Sarah Curtiss started a career in anti-violence as a women's advocate at AICHO's Dabinoo'Igan shelter.

• Laurel Sanders created art that can be seen on both the interior and exterior spaces at Gimaajii.

• Karen Savage not only has artwork on display at AICHO, but also hosts paint nights.

• Wendy Lee Savage has curated art shows at AICHO.

• Tawny Smith-Savage provides mental health services to residents

• Jara McLarren has volunteered at the majority of AICHO events since August.

If you go

What: "Phenomenal: Art Exhibit and Awards"

When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: AICHO, 202 W. Second St.

Tickets: Suggested $10 donation

Related Topics: ART
I am a 20-plus year employee of the Duluth News Tribune, first as a sports reporter, briefly as a copy editor and now as a features reporter with an emphasis on arts, entertainment and oddities. I enjoy trail running, paddle boarding, reading, yoga, cooking and things that are hilarious. I live in, and celebrate, West Duluth with my elementary school aged daughter, my longtime partner, and two pandemic pets. I can be reached at (218) 279-5536 or
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