Featured photo: Artist Virginia Holmes’ first art exhibit opened at the Center for Visual Artists on Feb. 3. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

As Virginia Holmes walks through the birth canal, she points to the various works of art that adorn the walls. She notes the geometric pieces by Dawn Leonard that map out the menstrual cycle and Kym Cooper’s colorful pop art dedicated to Henrietta Lacks. As Holmes continues through the space, she approaches Marva E.’s swirling drip paint art before making it to the uterus. A tall white column bisects the elongated room, creating pockets of space on either side — the ovaries.

“I decided to, because of the layout of the gallery, kind of imitate the female reproductive system,” Holmes explains. “As you can see here, there’s only one way in and one way out of this space, representing of course, the birth canal.”

An artist who has worked primarily in the underground scene for the past few years, Holmes curated a new exhibit that just opened at the Center for Visual Artists gallery in downtown Greensboro called The Eve Gene. The idea, according to Holmes, was to invite various female artists to produce work that connected to their physical experience of being a woman.

“I felt that it was important to open up the door who don’t get representation in general, and they may not look like me…but we’re also connected in some way,” Holmes says. “So I wanted to dedicate this exhibit to the womb instead and I wanted to have women create works of art that essentially told their narratives of having a womb and what that feels like and looks like for them.”

The show, which opened on Feb. 3, showcases a total of nine artists, the youngest being just 14 years old. And as Holmes’ first public art show, the experience has been a particularly personal one, especially given the subject matter.

The ‘Eve Gene’ is on display at the Center for Visual Artists until April 2. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“In 2017, I suffered a major miscarriage,” says Holmes, who is 28-years-old. “I was about five and a half months pregnant when I found out that I lost my child and had to have a full delivery. It was one of the most crushing experiences I’ve ever had. The art that I create today definitely mimics a lot of those emotions.”

On the left wall as visitors first enter the gallery, they’re met with floor-to-ceiling painted scrolls by Holmes. Using a thick printed geometric fabric as the canvas, Holmes scatters, throws, whips paint as an expression of her emotion, much in the style of Jackson Pollock. She says that it was in the few years before her miscarriage that she started to paint and take the practice seriously. As a teenager, she suffered from depression and explains that she didn’t feel like she fit in with her family.

“I recall from 2011 to 2015, really trying to figure out who I wanted to do,” Holmes says. “I felt really displaced from my family, like I didn’t fit in, and I think a lot of artists have similar situations that happen to them where they don’t feel accepted or feel like they can talk to anyone.”

After dropping out of school and quitting her job, Holmes went into Michael’s on a whim and picked up some paint.

“I just started making these weird pictures that didn’t really depict anything, but they had so many different colors in them, and I remember my friend telling me, ‘Girl you could sell this,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t want to sell them; these are my feelings,’” Holmes says. “Like my feelings aren’t for sale. That became me, not wanting to sell my emotions.”

Virginia Holmes says painting allowed her to work through traumatic events in her life like her miscarriage. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Painting, Holmes says, has become her way of dealing with trauma like in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder in summer 2020 when Holmes and other activists helped lead protests around the city. She says that since that time, she’s been keeping to herself and regrouping because of the toll it took on her emotionally and physically. Now, she’s opening herself back up through art.

“These pieces are about the energy I’ve been keeping to myself,” Holmes says.

Looking around the gallery, Holmes explains that many of the artists in the show have used the space to express themselves deeply like Holmes has. While some artists like Kidd Graves draw from their backgrounds by depicting folktales related to pregnancy, others like Estko and Marva E. made works that bring awareness to traumatic events like miscarriages or domestic violence. In the right ovary part of the gallery, Sky Sevier paints minimalistic, curving bodies of women of color that highlight the physical changes women go through before, during and after pregnancy.

Drip paintings by Marva E. highlight domestic violence against women. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

When inviting the artists to participate, Holmes says she told them what the show was about but didn’t put any boundaries on the kinds of work they could turn in. That includes the experiences of nonbinary artists such as Kidd Graves. Holmes says that she herself is still learning about the trans community and had in-depth conversations with Graves about who is or is not a woman. That’s all part of the fluidity and inclusiveness that Holmes wanted to foster in the show. The end result, Holmes says, is a multifaceted exhibit that showcases the diverse experiences of what it means to be a woman.

“It’s about telling that beautiful story of women creating something from nothing,” Holmes says. “And what it looks like when you really just allow yourself to let go.”

The Eve Gene is on display at the Center of Visual Artists Gallery through April 2. On March 3, there will be a private showing of the gallery. To buy tickets, visit mycvagreensboro.org.

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