Tarleton State University’s Speaker Symposium Series continues Monday, Nov. 7, when artist Margaret Meehan discusses her Artpace San Antonio exhibition, Decoration Day, an originally commissioned exhibit focused on the hidden stories of female soldiers during the American Civil War.
Meehan’s talk is free and open to the public and takes place at 5:30 p.m. in Room 108 of the Nursing Building on the Stephenville campus.
The lecture will feature a mixture of the sculpture, photography and sound, as well as the research that went into the making of the exhibition, a showcase originally commissioned and produced by Artspace San Antonio.
According to Meehan, it is a little known fact that between 400 and 1,000 women disguised themselves as men and fought for both sides of the Civil War. Some were discovered and sent home, and some stayed on the battlefield and worked as nurses. Others fought as men with distinction and came out as women only when safely living again at home.
Many were killed and buried before the discovery of their gender. Like Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, also known as Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, whose gender was revealed only after they died on the battlefield.
Meehan’s intention with this artistic body of work is to highlight the legacy these forgotten and invisible women and to compare their stories with those of contemporary queer and female American soldiers. She connects the stories of 19th century soldiers who passed as men in order to fight at all and contemporary women who are now allowed to become soldiers but still have to endure a number of roadblocks because of social restrictions.
This exhibition also focuses on recent official policies of secrecy like “Don’t ask. Don’t tell” in the context of larger patterns in the U.S. military that extend the debates in society at large with regard to gender and sexuality, revealing the difficulties that LGBTQ soldiers and their families still face.
Meehan always has been interested in the body. Not necessarily in the way it works, but more in how it has been perceived throughout history. She is curious about the intersections of teratology and history that give basis to an anxiety about the body and the act of living. Her work focuses on women and individuals who have been depicted as monsters,drawing from film, music and popular culture, but also family folklore. Pulling from the past as well as the present, her work is predicated on the treatment of others, visually referencing patterns of behavior in multiple parts of society at multiple times.