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Gallery 2

Meg Stein

Dirty White Matter
Exhibition: September 18 – October 31

Download the exhibition brochure

Meg Stein, Success under this system is suspect, detail. Photo credit: Derrick Beasley

What does it mean to be white and female living in the United States? In what ways have these identifiers been used as weapons of violence and oppression, and how can we begin to shift the narrative we have been given and take control of our position of power? Durham-based artist Meg Stein explores the ways that white femininity feeds systems of supremacy. Through community engagement, performance, and sculpture she asks her viewers to begin the difficult process of dissecting what whiteness and white femininity actually mean. Stein uses humor, found materials, and biomorphic forms to create an approachable environment. Yet close engagement reveals the discomfort and distortion hiding beneath the surface of seemingly familiar and playful forms. The danger of white femininity lies in its fragile façade, negating the power that white women yield in order to impose violence on persons of color. By unpacking these ideas and re-presenting this narrative Stein casts the mythology of white femininity in a new light, where purity and innocence are revealed as a menacing force.

The process of dismantling an identity so strongly rooted in our cultural imagination is an aggressive undertaking. However, part of Stein’s brilliance is her recognition that this process holds the potential for healing and growth. This happens in a number of ways including public workshops, opportunities to share stories and the shared physical labor of creating elements that are used in the finished sculptural forms. For example, in Dirty White Matter, Stein invited participants to create the work in collaboration with her while listening to and talking about the experiences of black women. This performative aspect of the work emphasizes the very nature of the problem Stein seeks to address. This is not about a singular struggle, or an individual artist’s sense of self, but about a collective identity that must be redefined together.



Meg Stein, Dirty White Matter, made in collaboration with Dirty White Matter participants

Dirty White Matter uses art and community participation to critically discuss whiteness and femininity. During discussion events, performances, and collaborative art-making, the project engages these issues through symbolic materials, recorded interviews and group participation. Aiming to increase awareness, action and accountability, the project invites participants to discover how intersections of whiteness and femininity resonate in their life and the lives of others, with particular emphasis on harm. Everyone is welcome to participate.

megscenes-38-smallerFree from Moral: An Impurity, Meg Stein in collaboration with Sarah Almond, Kavanah Anderson, Bethany Bash, Derrick Beasley, Erin Bell, Kristen Cox, Alyssa Noble, Karen Tarkulich. Photo credit: Derrick Beasley

Artist Statement

“Banality is another word for the invisible. Every day, we use common household items without realizing how much they reveal about ourselves. I build sculptures from these ordinary objects to unveil and then distort their hidden messages. Specifically, I investigate femininity and how encoded messages about femaleness both shape and conflict with my lived experience.

My mixed media sculptures playfully mutate recognizable materials into grotesque, bodily forms that range in scale from the size of a squirrel eating a cupcake to that of a linebacker in heels. Pockmarked pink dish sponges become moist, fleshy caverns. Prickly hair curlers marry copper scrubbies to form a strange flower. Bright white tampons and eggshell cosmetic sponges distend vulnerable, skin-like nylon pouches. Ceramic nipples protrude from bulbous forms that bear down on spindly legs painted in nail polish. Gold-painted ear plugs and eyelashes sag and sway on udders made from stockings.

I pull apart and reassemble everyday materials to reflect and then warp the feminine expectations embedded within the items. Transforming these items into unknown amalgamations of bodies and nature, I betray dominant gender norms. Tactile and visceral, these sculptures connect abstract social ideas of female identity to lived, sensorial experience. When engaging my sculptures, people discover familiar textures, colors or shapes that give clues about the original objects. I ask viewers to consider the overlooked messages within these items and our connection to them.

My sculptures create opportunities for viewers to envision new pussybilities of what it means to be feminine. In a culture plagued by racism, sexism, and prejudice, these sculptures help me navigate how my privilege impacts my own experience and the bodies and lives of other people.”


Meg Stein, photo credit: Derrick Beasley


Meg Stein is a visual artist based in Durham, NC, primarily working in sculpture and social practice. She has exhibited her work at VICTORI + MO, Garis & Hahn, A.I.R. Gallery, Westbeth Gallery, Duke University, Vox Populi, the Governors Island Art Fair, Greenhill Gallery, the Neon Heater, and the Spartanburg Museum of Art, among others. Stein has been an artist-in-residence at Yaddo, the Millay Colony, The Hambidge Center, Haystack, PLAYA, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has  received a Puffin Grant, the Garland Fellowship from the Hambidge Center, and the Ella Pratt Emerging Artist Grant. Stein was selected as the North Carolina Fellow for South Arts. Stein also runs Dirty White Matter, a community-based project that uses group discussion + art to confront whiteness and increase accountability. More info at megstein.com.