What makes a family?
This seemingly straightforward question is not as easy to answer as one might at first imagine. Our notions of family are firmly based in tradition, religion and mediated role models. The recent debate over same-sex marriage is perhaps at the heart of a sea change that challenges the historically prescribed definition of a family. Despite resistance to societal changes, a family no longer necessarily fits the statistical mold of a nuclear family made up of 1 father, 1 mother and 2½ children.
Cambridge artist Jane Hook asks us to consider how our social, political and religious biases can limit our perceptions of what can constitute a family, and uses her art as a way to physically document a variety of examples. Using conventional sculpting methods to capture realistic figures in three dimensions, the artist depicts a wide range of families representing both traditional and alternative lifestyles. Drawing her non-professional models from across Waterloo region, the artist respectfully challenges how broadly or narrowly our definitions of family may extend.
Modeled in clay and cast in hydrocal over an intensive two year work period, Hook’s studies capture a diverse and dynamic group. Ranging from a traditional family with a mother, father and three children (Study #7: Dyan, Rob, Nolan, Kohan and Talen), two fathers with their children (Study #5: Bryan, Kevin, Lilly and Michael), to a mixed race couple (Study #8: Eddie and Rosetta), a transgendered divorcee (Study #6: Robi-Ellen), and finally, a widower (Study #1: Bert), her subjects resist easy categorization. Defying age, gender and stereotype, the artist captures a compelling panorama of the diversity that exists within our community.
Although Hook wears her personal politics and emotions on her sleeve, her work is never polemical. As an artist she doesn’t preach. Instead, she speaks through her subjects, each of whom is presented as naked and vulnerable. Note that they are also joyful and proud. There are no feelings of guilt or shame on display. The range of different body types and unguarded expressions elicit our empathy and compassion. What shines through besides the artist’s obvious delight in rendering the human form, is a genuine affection for her subjects, which all but emanates from the work. Hook wisely steps back and lets us engage with the figures (and their stories) on our own terms, allowing us to come to our own conclusions about this very personal topic.
Full Circle reminds us that a family is not an inflexible ideal, but the sum total of love, sustenance and support shared by those who have devoted themselves to care for one another. In place of intolerance, this work makes a passionate case for inclusivity.
Curator, Cambridge Galleries.