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JOURNAL beyond borders



Missoula Art Museum

Missoula, Montana
March 12 – June 8, 2007

Laura Millin, Executive Director
Steve Glueckert, Curator
Renee Taaffe, Curator of Education
Meridith Rippey, Missoula Art Museum Visitor Services
Cricket Winfield, Coordinator


Missoula Montana continues to feel the ripple effect of Women Beyond Borders.

– Cricket Wingfield, WBB Coordinator



Over 1,200 fifth graders from Missoula County came to the museum every school day for three months throughout the exhibition to view the boxes and to discuss women’s issues. As the students entered the museum, both boys and girls were given cards with a specific issue relating to women. They viewed the works and collected information in reference to their card. Earnest discussions followed giving the students new insights into women. Next, the group viewed the WBB World Tour video and then created their own boxes.




An evening in Missoula with the artists


Thinking INSIDE the box:
Local artists add their voices to world-touring ‘Women Beyond Borders’ exhibit


April 26, 2007
By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian


The exhibit includes work by women survivors of genocide in Rwanda. The box on the right, titled “Beatrice’s Box – A Coffin” by Beatrice Nicyascra, shows figures representing her four children and a drawing of her husband who was hacked to death while she was forced to witness.


Think you know what a box is? Google offers 44 definitions of the word, drawn from 32 different sources. Yes, a box is “a (usually rectangular) container,” but it is also a “compilation of rare and unreleased tracks by Klinik,” and a “juggling pattern for three objects, most commonly balls or bean bags.” It is a technique of cocktail mixology, a hockey strategy, an area of a craps table, and slang for a tornado watch.


Not one of the definitions dredged up by Google mentions the word “feminine” or “woman.” Yet to more than 900 women in 50 nations around the world, a simple, pine box has become a symbol not only of femininity, but of the cultural concerns, economic challenges and personal struggles that bind all women around the world.


Expressions of that symbolism are currently on display at the Missoula Art Museum as part of an exhibit, titled “Women Beyond Borders.” The traveling exhibit, which has circled the globe over the past 16 years, is the brainchild of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based artist Lorraine Serena, who visited Missoula recently for the show’s local opening.


“The box is a shrine, it’s a vessel, it’s a womb, it’s a tomb,” said Serena in an interview with the Missoulian. “There are so many ideas and concepts familiar to women that attach to the box, even though it’s a rigid object. It has been life-altering and mind-boggling to witness the range of concepts and expressions that women have come up with in response to this simple little box.”


The project traces back to 1991, when Serena and a group of other Santa Barbara artists were trying to dream up an art experiment that could involve women from around the world, something that would address issues of politics, identity and community. They lit upon the idea of the boxes for reasons both practical and metaphorical.


“We were trying to think of something that would be easy to ship around the world, and that would have a lot of symbolism and opportunity for artists to interact with in a meaningful way,” said Serena. “I put some of the found objects from my artwork on a table, which included a small box. We looked down and thought, that’s it, the box.”


The organizers – led by Serena and Elena Siff – launched “Women Beyond Borders” by sending out 200 pine boxes, each measuring just 3 1/2 inches by 2 inches by 2 inches to artists around the world. Initially, they contacted artists with whom they had some degree of connection. But as word of the project spread, requests and contributions came in from unexpected quarters around the globe.


“It spread so fast even with an assistant we could hardly keep up,” said Serena. “It seemed like every day we were getting them submitted, from just everywhere. It was such an unexpected experience of life – I feel it was almost a part of a destiny for me.”


The first exhibit, featuring 185 artistically altered boxes, took place at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum in 1995. Since then, the exhibit has visited 47 locations in 50 different countries. If that math seems backwards, it’s because one of the exhibitions literally traveled, on a train, across eastern Europe.


“This group of women had the idea to hold the exhibition on a train going from Austria to Russia,” explained Serena. “They exhibited it in the berths for people as they traveled. The show went across recently opened borders, carrying the boxes, so they really made the idea interesting.”


The exhibit was part of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad, in coordination with the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It has also visited a shopping mall in Canada, a temple in Katmandu, airports and the Ontario International Airport near Los Angeles.


“We go where the boxes are wanted,” said Serena. “This is not the kind of thing that is meant to be only for museumgoers.”


It is also not meant only for practitioners of fine art. Many of the contributors to “Women Beyond Borders” are first-time artists; others are professional craftspeople.


“The boxes have come from women who live in very humble places to very elegant places, women who have a lot of creative experience and women who have very little or none at all,” said Serena. “Our goal has always been to honor and document the whole range of women’s voices around the world.”


Kelly Garrett strolls past some of the boxes made by artists from 50 nations at the Missoula Art Museum Tuesday afternoon. The exhibit, “Women Beyond Borders,” has circled the globe over the past 16 years, includes 900 boxes and has recently has grown to feature work from Missoula artists.




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