Local feminists burn Bakersfield sexism

Maryann Kopp

Upon entering The Empty Space on Oct. 11, a large painting with a nude woman in the center, and “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” underneath could be seen directly ahead. To the right were pictures of over 60 local female artists who contributed to this year’s Burn the Witch III art exhibit alongside short biographies.
“This is already the best show ever,” said curator and co-creator of the all-woman based exhibit, Jen Raven.
As a local artist herself, Raven has had her share of experience in the Bakersfield art scene and not all of that being positive.
“Several of us chicks were pissed,” she said. “The group (theater) shows we’d recently been a part of were sexist, in more ways than one, and we were really sick of it.”
Over drinks one evening, Raven and fellow female artists Jen Williams, Amber Saunders and Nyoka Jameson were all “discussing the lame situation.” They started to joke about where they had found themselves as female artists in “conservative” Bakersfield.
“We felt like we were standing on the town square with townsfolk surrounding us, waving pitchforks and yelling, ‘She’s weird! Burn her!'”
And, from that, Burn the Witch was created. With only six weeks to pull the exhibit together, the women found 18 artists to participate in their multi-genre show.
The response was so great (breaking records for art sales and take at the door in its first year) that it grew on its own and became an annual event.
This year, Burn the Witch III had two openings, Oct. 11 and 18 and was well received by the community. The exhibit included artwork (over 350 pieces, excluding the jewelry, clothing and ceramic pieces) as well as live performances.
Amber Wilson performed in the theater portion, singing and playing her acoustic guitar. This was her first year participating in the event and found the audience to be “good and welcoming.” Wilson called the women who were participating in the exhibit “amazing,” and she plans to participate next year, if she is able.
Another first year contributor, Monica Martinez, displayed several copies of a coloring book that she made as well as a painting titled “Goddess Hera,” which she made especially for Burn the Witch III. Martinez said that her experience has been “good,” and she said she would return next year.
Todd Powers, Raven’s husband (whose company, Foxglove Photography, provided the photos of the artists), believes that this exhibit “fills the niche for darker, less socially accepted work” in Bakersfield’s arts community.
Powers and Raven are both pleased that the work they have put into over the years are paying off with a great amount of community and artistic support.
“I put six months of my life into this year’s show,” Raven said. “I’ve never been so exhausted in my life.”
Still, even with all of the stress she’s had to work through doing this exhibit, she said, “I’m so proud of the show. I’m so proud of all the artists in the show. I’m so proud of all the people who work so hard to make it happen every year.”