Woman blends activism with art in new exhibit

Published 4:04 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2024

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Missing women a focus of woman’s show in A.L.

By Ayanna Eckblad

A new exhibit will soon be available for viewing at the Albert Lea Art Center. The collection is called “Missing and Disappeared” and was created by Minnesota-based artist Rachel Coyne.

It centers on women from the past who have gone missing or disappeared and that advancing DNA technology has helped identify.

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The artwork shows photographs of women who “got their names back,” according to Coyne. Each photo is set against a collage of vintage clothing patterns and preserved in a resin panel. She explained that, prior to being identified, “Jane Does” were identified in the police records system by the clothes that they were found in.

“I used old envelope dress patterns from the time when the women were alive, what their clothes would have been made out of, to make the backgrounds,” Coyne said.

She used patterns that were yellowed because it reminded her of police files that became yellowed with age when they became cold cases. The resin, she said, was used to give the illusion of being suspended in time. Many loved ones of women who had gone missing expressed feeling that their lives felt frozen from the time their loved one disappeared, and Coyne wanted to capture that emotion.

A light is attached to the back of each panel and, when turned on, “multiple female silhouettes come into view, emerging from the shadows,” said the exhibit’s official description.

Although the subject matter is quite heavy, Coyne wants the exhibit to be one of hope.

“This is also for me a really joyful story about, despite the sadness — and I don’t dwell on how the women died, but a lot of them died really terribly — it’s kind of about the joy of them getting their names back,” she said.

The project is close to Coyne’s heart not only personally, but from a professional aspect as well. She is a practicing attorney in a city north of the Twin Cities and also volunteers at her community’s homeless shelter for women with families.

“It’s combining my art into my job and what my passion has been about,” she said.

One aspect that Coyne wanted to draw special attention to in her exhibit are the nuances of being a Black or indigenous woman who goes missing.

“Oftentimes they are misidentified in the system as white, you know, when you’re dealing with a certain level of decomposition,” she explained. She said the same issue is true for other women of color as well. DNA testing has started to change that by identifying the race of people found so they are entered into the system correctly.

She also mentioned other advances for women of color in the criminal justice system. A few examples include the Red Dress Project and Office for Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls in Minnesota.

This is Coyne’s first time working with the Albert Lea Art Center.

Coyne is hopeful that her exhibit will encourage people to give permission to testing programs like the DNA Doe website and GEDmatch to use their DNA.

Much of the information needed is already available through ancestry genetic websites.

“I really hope that people will go, and go look at … the DNA Doe website and say, ‘Yep, you can use my data’ and opt in to help find people who went missing.”

“Missing and Disappeared” will be on display at the Albert Lea Art Center from today to June 8. An artist reception will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. on May 19 at the Art Center. The exhibit is made possible by the Minnesota State Arts Board and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. More information on the Albert Lea Art Center can be found at www.thealbertleaartcenter.org.