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Sarah Unruh ’12

Faculty lecturer’s research, writing focus on art and motherhood

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Bethel College Women’s Association has moved the date of their annual faculty lecture up a month.

Rachel Epp Buller, assistant professor of art at Bethel College, will be the speaker. The lecture is May 2 at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center on the Bethel campus. The public is cordially invited.

In addition to teaching and printmaking, her preferred medium, Epp Buller maintains a busy schedule of writing, speaking and curating and organizing exhibits. She was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to study in Germany in 2011 and she returns to Europe this summer.

Her May 2 lecture, titled “Art and the Maternal: Strategies and Interventions,”  is based on one she’ll give at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna as part of its Gender and the Art World lecture series.

“The Feminist Art Movement is more than 40 years old,” Epp Buller said in her abstract for the Vienna lecture, “yet only in recent years have critical issues of motherhood received due attention in the art world.

“While Mary Kelly’s ‘Post-partum Document’ stood for years as a famous placeholder – a token recognition that mothers, too, make art – many artists continued to feel that their motherhood must be kept secret.

“Myrel Chernick, in writing about her ‘Maternal Metaphors’ exhibition, discussed how the reactions of curators, gallerists and fellow artists made clear that maternal experiences were not considered legitimate subject matter. Within the last decade, however, artists around the world have pushed back against this invisible boundary, intervening in the gallery space or even circumventing it, in order to draw more public attention to issues and experiences of the maternal body and mind.”

Examples, she said, include South African artist Terry Kurgan’s interactive, site-specific installation about and for mothers at a maternity hospital; Canadian artist Jess Dobkin’s milk tasting – similar to a wine tasting – at a Toronto gallery, that confronted viewers’ feelings of discomfort around issues of breastfeeding; and American artist Jill Miller’s recently unveiled “Milk Truck,” a “lactivist” art experience on wheels.

“Intersections of art and maternity have been an interest of mine for some time,” Epp Buller added, “and I’ve been exploring those themes in different ways through research, exhibitions and my own art. Some of the talk comes out of research from my book published last fall, and other parts come from more recent work I’ve been doing with contemporary artists.”

Epp Buller is the editor of Reconciling Art and Mothering, published by Ashgate in September 2012, in which she and 23 others examine the myriad issues raised by the positive and negative tensions between mothering and art.

In this school year, Epp Buller has organized a series of exhibits in Bethel’s Fine Arts Center Gallery featuring work by art alumni and former and current art faculty in recognition of the college’s 125th anniversary in 2012-13.

She was the curator of “Occupy Art: Protest and Empathy for the Worker,” a special exhibition at the Wichita Art Museum that closed last month; “Postpartum” at the Erman B. White Gallery on the campus of Butler Community College, El Dorado, that closed April 5; and, last spring, “Art Lives!,” a month-long special exhibit at CityArts in Wichita that was the inaugural exhibit for the Kansas chapter of the Feminist Art Project, for which Epp Buller is the Kansas coordinator.

“Some of my favorite art that I’ll show [during the lecture] is work that incorporates elements of humor and draws attention to the maternal in unexpected or surprising ways,” Epp Buller said. “I also really appreciate work that moves outside the gallery space and has elements of community outreach and activism, which very much mirrors my own interests.”

Another of Epp Buller’s projects in recent years was helping coordinate a successful effort to fund, create and dedicate Newton’s public mural, “The Imagineers,” on the north-facing wall of 304 North Main Street in Newton, in 2010. 

“I am grateful for the work that BCWA does in supporting faculty research and activities, and I am honored to have been selected to present this year’s lecture,” Epp Buller said.

She graduated from Bethel College with a triple major – art, history and German – and earned her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Kansas. She has taught at Bethel in an adjunct role for the past several years and moved into her full-time position beginning in 2012.

A brief business meeting for BCWA members will precede the May 2 lecture. Following Epp Buller’s presentation, there will be refreshments and socializing, open to everyone, in the FAC lobby.

For more information about the meeting or the faculty lecture, contact BCWA President Donna Becker at 316-284-5327 or dbecker@bethelks.edu.

The BCWA Faculty Public Lecture award is open to any Bethel College professor. The lecture is intended to showcase faculty expertise and research interest in a presentation that is interesting and stimulating for the audience. The award carries a $1,000 stipend, with $200 going to the faculty member and the remainder to his/her department to be used at that department’s discretion. Last year’s winner was Doug Siemens, assistant professor of education.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.