Cambridge Times, Local artist opens minds to family definition

Nov 13, 2007, Cambridge Times, Lisa Rutledge

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Local artist opens minds to family definition BY LISA RUTLEDGE CAMBRIDGE TIMES NOVEMBER 13, 2007

When Cambridge artist Jane Hook unveiled her sculptures depicting various types of families, she didn’t set out to change people’s minds about the definition of family.

She does, however, hope to at least open a mind or two.

In her first-ever public showing, Hook has introduced a collection of nude sculptures at the Cambridge Libraries Preston Galleries that is bound to make observers react. How they react will depend on their perception of family.

She describes her “Full Circle: Evolving Family Studies” sculptures exhibit as a quiet yet powerful reflection of diverse local families whose members are straight, gay, transgender and widowed.

Under the soft studio lighting, the figures seem innocuous, as they appear to capture a snapshot of a happy moment in each family’s life. Their imperfect bodies – some of which purposefully include textured marks left by Hook’s crafting tools – speak to the artist’s notion that no one is perfect and there’s no such thing as the perfect family.

“It’s a gentle presence of something that’s very powerful,” explained Hook.

She said the exhibit casts into the limelight a controversial issue many people cant or don’t want to understand, especially in a conservative city like Cambridge. It compels onlookers to think about what the family unit means. It is also extremely timely as members of a Waterloo-based special interest group Defend Traditional Marriage and Family are currently asking the Waterloo Catholic District School Board to pull a teachers’ resource book because they argue it promotes homosexuality.

Hook’s goal is not to force people to change their perceptions of their own family but she hopes the exhibit will at least spark conversation and questions. Even if they don’t like a family concept that includes two dads or two moms, she challenges onlookers to think about what they’ve seen.

“That’s what I hope for this show,” explained Hook. “I want people to be open to their own questions.”

Judging by the comments written in the visitors’ book at the Preston gallery, Hook’s already achieved that.

One person wrote: “Nice sculptures, but I didn’t appreciate having the strange mix of “family”.

Right below that someone wrote: “Gorgeous! No strange families here. All I see is love.”

Those who would choose to label Hook’s Full Circle collection as a tool for social evolution wouldn’t be far off the mark. In a rare combination, Hook is not only an artist who studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design, but she is also a practicing psychotherapist. That means she is able to use the medium of clay modeling to encourage people to question themselves.

It takes much more courage to self-evaluate than it does to point fingers, she maintains.

“People don’t like asking questions. They like making statements.”

Art can be extremely therapeutic, according to Hook, who finds personal comfort in her own sculptures, especially one featuring close friends – two gay women, one of whom was pregnant. News of their pregnancy was difficult at first because of Hook’s own troubles with conceiving. But the artist can gaze upon the statue of the couple with whom she is still close, and see the warmth of family.

Other pieces in the collection feature the embrace of a white man and a black woman, a large family with mom and dad and another showing two dads with their two children. Each of the local residents who volunteered to pose for Hook have a statement about who they are and why they love and are proud of their families.

The little girl being raised by two dads says that her family means everything to her and is more important than food.

While she knows the show won’t suddenly change everyone’s mind about the definition of family, Hook dreams of a time when acceptance will become the norm.

“It’s about honouring people for who they are,” she said. “The bottom line is that you care for people.”

The Full Circle: Evolving Family Studies exhibit, which Hook hopes to see travel to galleries across the country, will be on display at the Cambridge Galleries, Preston until Dec. 2.