"This has been a remarkable experience. There is not one interview we have had that has not been full of grace, candor and wisdom. We have both been changed as a result of the willingness of these women to share their experiences and insights."
THE 20 WOMEN portrayed in photographer Kent Miles' and writer James Kimball's exhibit, "Mormon Women: Portraits and Conversations 1996-1998," at Art Access, will change one's perception of Mormon women forever.
Take Tsobinar Tatevosian.
In 1951 her brother was murdered by the Soviet KGB for publishing pamphlets protesting the forced relocation of native Armenians. Tatevosian and her family were arrested and sentenced to five years in a gulag where she experienced unimaginable trials. In his written interview with Tatevosian, Kimball quotes her as saying, "Though it was hard, those who were sent there were the best people of our country. They were the thinkers, the scholars, the artists and poets, and the most moral of men and women. They were the ones who dared to speak out against injustice. It was a profound and even joyous experience." After her release from prison, Tatevosian returned to Armenia, married, raised a family and presently teaches Sunday school in one of the Yerevan, Armenia, branches of the LDS Church.
The idea for "Mormon Women" - a work in progress from a soon to be completed book - began many years ago. "Jim and I both felt that much of the strength that binds the Mormon community together lies in its women," Miles says. The two artists believed that the perceived stereotype of Mormon women was inadequate and altogether unfair. "We wanted to talk with and portray, through documentary portraits and their own words, a range of women that is characteristic of this emerging world community."
To do the job right, both men felt the necessity of interviewing women outside of Utah. "So we got a small advance from a publisher," says Kimball, "and flew to England to see Carole Gray (humanitarian) and Anne Perry (mystery writer)."
Many of the women in the exhibit will be familiar to Utah gallerygoers - Emma Lou Thayne, Susan Memmott Allred and Terry Tempest Williams. But like Tatevosian, there are others with compelling, struggle-filled histories. Julia Mozambila, a government minister in Johannesburg, South Africa, "knew Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela way back in the days of their struggles against Apartheid," says Kimball.
Cecile Peolous, a fashion design creatist in Paris, France, left the glamour of the fashion world behind to travel to India two weeks a year to work with Mother Teresa. "She risked her good health and expended all of her personal resources to help bring relief, particularly to the impoverished children with whom she felt a particular connection," writes Kim-ball.
Claudia Bushman, author and professor from New York City, married in college and graduated in maternity clothes. She started her master's degree with two children and finished with three. She started her doctorate with five and finished with six. She now spends her time researching, writing, publishing, lecturing and, in her words, "valuing the human connection we have with our families and the Church." She continued: "President Hinkley was asked recently whether girls should pursue education, missions or marriage. He said, `Well, I think it's best to do all three if you can.' And that is what I say. I say do everything. Let a million flowers bloom!"
Each of the 20 stories and photographs in "Mormon Women" is a testament to fortitude and faith, choice and vision, education and commitment.
Art Access, 339 W. Pierpont Ave., will exhibit "Mormon Women: Portraits and Conversations 1996-1998" through Oct. 9. The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.