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A Room of One’s Own imagined anew

'Ancient Crime Scene' by Susan Kitazawa. (Courtesy of Asian American Women Artists Association)

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929.

Today, a group of modern-day women artists argue visual art needs the same amount of freedom in their art collection A Place of Her Own.

The exhibit, created and organized by the San Francisco-based artists’ foundation Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA), expands Woolf’s statement to include women of a diverse array of socio-ethnic backgrounds rather than just the middle class white women of Woolf’s essay. A Place of Her Own premiered at the de Young Museum in early 2009 and has since partnered with a variety of organizations that offer services for children, women and victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.

One of Irene Wibawa’s corked glass jar dioramas. (Courtesy of Asian American Women Artists Association)

In the second stage of the three-pronged project, housed in the Driftwood Salon in San Francisco, artists present their imaginations in art that literally scales the walls, whether it hovers a few feet or hangs from the ceiling.

Most imposing is Nancy Hom’s “Dance of the Inner Spirit,” a luminously-dyed 15-foot swath of silk – the screenprinter’s first foray into fabrics art. The piece seems to charter Hom’s personal growth since developing an interest in dance three years ago. The silk twists upward from a purple sand base – an allusion to Hom’s Buddhist faith – and reaches luminous, fiery hues at its pinnacle. Co-curator and close friend Cynthia Tom credits dance for giving Hom’s reserved nature a channel for drama and expression.

Across the way hangs writer Isabelle Thuy Pelaud’s thin bed of suspended cotton thread and wood with a written meditation on the refuge of solitude chalked in cursive below. Pelaud, an Asian native of France who now teaches at San Francisco State, expressed feelings from a turbulent childhood and prejudice in what is her first installation piece. Originally a collection of rocks taken from the Sierra Nevada, Pelaud’s work took on a new form when Tom encouraged Pelaud to create something more liberating. What was left was a raised, inverted bridge, a symbol of fragile but determined protection.

“I always found myself in situations I did not want, in between two things that were taking from me. But here, I choose not to be in the center of that,” Pelaud said.

Isabelle Thuy Pelaud’s thin bed of hanging cotton thread. (Courtesy of AAWAA)

At the center of the room lies artist Irene Wibawa’s exquisite and playful collection of corked glass jar dioramas, balanced on midair wooden planks. Whether it’s irony or comic tranquility she’s after, Wibawa’s kaleidoscopic sense of scaled spectacle is potent: a surfer glides through the nadir of a cracked eggshell, a businessman shuffles up to a carved cork piece and tiny palm trees tower over a miniature laundry woman.

“Ancient Crime Scene,” by Susan Kitazawa, is a chilling multimedia work of painted canvas, a gallon jug and a clothing iron. Kitazawa’s earthy application of rusted browns and glowing turquoises instantly transforms the domestic into the primordial and violent. Yet notes of optimism are embedded there too, as her work looks back into a past we may no longer recognize.

A Place of Her Own serves as an artistic update to Woolf’s 1929 essay and encourages viewers to explore their own creativity, memory and renewal.

A Place of Her Own is available for viewing Wednesday-Sunday from 12-6 p.m. until Oct. 3. at  Driftwood Salon in S.F. For directions and more information at