Big Girls Do Cry

by Jaden Young | 4/19/17 2:30am

by Ishaan Jajodia and Ishaan Jajodia / The Dartmouth

At an institution defined by tradition, breaking down taboos around touchy subjects can be a difficult battle. Charlotte Grussing ’19 is working with her sorority, Kappa Delta Epsilon, to open a dialogue about both mental illness and the underrepresentation of female artists with the upcoming art exhibition titled, “Big Girls Cry.”

“[KDE] wanted to do an exhibition including the work I’d been doing on my off term, and instead, I suggested that I curate this and help put it together,” Grussing said. “We’ll involve the whole campus and try to start a dialogue on mental health in a way that’s accessible and enjoyable. Doing it through art’s not scary, and it can move people in different ways.”

The exhibition ­— April 28 from 4:30 to 6:30 pm at KDE — will feature the works of female artists on campus.

“It’s really bad how little exhibition space female artists get compared to male artists in places like the Met[ropolitan Museum of Art],” Grussing said. “It’s exciting that this is going to be an all girls exhibition. We’re going to try to make it a really joyous occasion — put things outside, get a band, have it be a celebration of female art, bring up mental health and create a space where it’s okay to talk about it. Make something beautiful.”

According to Grussing, the organizers expect to be accepting submissions of artwork up to the Wednesday before the show. She emphasized that she wanted as many artists across campus to submit work as possible, even if they have never taken an art class.

Grussing’s own work will be featured as well.

“I’m more nervous about that,” she said. “It’s quite personal, and it has that same dialogue on mental health. Mental health at Dartmouth is quite a closed-off topic sometimes. There will be some of my work, but I’d rather get everyone else’s work than show mine.”

During a recent off term, Grussing raised almost $2,000 and embarked on a project inspired by her oldest sister, who has Prader-Willi syndrome. Prader-Willi syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that results from loss of function in certain genes affecting the hympothalamus, leading to chronic feelings of hunger and obesity. The insatiable hunger is so intense that patients often require external control, such as padlocking pantries and refrigerators to limit access to food and avoid life-threatening obesity.

“I’ve grown up around this severe disability,” Grussing said. “After seeing how people reacted so negatively [to people with Prader-Willi syndrome] with the assumption, ‘Oh, they’re just fat,’ when they can’t help it, yet anorexia and bulimia are often glamorized by models and other things like that, I was inspired. I wanted to take photographs of people with this rare genetic disorder and make them look really beautiful, contrasting that with the other end of the spectrum of eating disorders. There are these Renaissance pictures of really lush, plump women, so I was thinking like that — making everyone’s bodies beautiful.”

In the past, Grussing focused on mixed media sculpture, but for this project, she turned to photography so she could widen her outreach.

“It was the best medium to involve the most people,” she said. “I enjoy making things with my hands and identify with sculpting more, but for me, I needed to involve as many people in the project as possible. This isn’t just me and my sister, this is a lot of people. A lot of people are dealing with similar things, or feel the same way due to something else.”

Along with photography, Grussing documented her experiences with video, which she says she plans to return to for inspiration to expand the ideas and feelings of this project into new mediums.

“When I was in Germany, I actually couldn’t speak any German,” Grussing said. “In one of the biggest homes I went to in Europe, a boy with the disability was my translator, and [videotaping] was just kind of to capture the mood. I’m the only one who’s had this experience of going to this home from England, not speaking the language and just shooting them and their joy of having their photos taken. Some of them put on their best outfits and were all dolled up, and I wanted to capture that mood.”

Grussing spoke with reverence about her experiences photographing people with Prader-Willi syndrome, calling them “incredible.”

“The people, they’re so full of life and happiness and joy,” she said. “One of them actually passed away just after I shot them, and I’m just excited to bring this here and get people to think about how every body is beautiful and how mental health is so important. Showing that through art, I think, is a good thing to do here, and everywhere.”

Mental health, Grussing said, is a difficult subject to broach at Dartmouth.

“It’s an isolated environment where so many people act like they’re happy all the time, and it doesn’t seem like it’s okay to not be happy,” she said. “I love Dartmouth now, but I hated it freshman year. It sucked, but I couldn’t say that to anyone. I think people are scared to bring it up in case they get in trouble or their friends treat them differently. It seems like everyone is so happy and you’re in this bubble that’s perfect, but it’s not, and people are maybe scared to say that.”

Grussing wants the exhibition to be a space for open dialogue about mental health.

“Doing things like this, that involve more people, make it more accessible and less like someone’s talking down at you,” Grussing said. “We’re bringing it up in a friendly manner. But it is very hard, and this isn’t going to change everything. It’s just a little step.”