An honest exhibition of girls in art

Culture Visual Arts
Angel Manguerra (photo)
Angel Manguerra (photo)

A collection of artwork depicting girls past and present is on display from now until Oct. 5 at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Girls: Historical Portraits from the Collection presents a wide range of portraits and visuals from the past 200 years. The gallery’s chief curator, Michelle Jacques, was inspired by Lena Dunham’s HBO show Girls and Cat’s Eye, a book by Margaret Atwood.

“It’s always been very complex the way girls are portrayed, so you can’t really reduce it to one thing,” says Jacques. Rather than a conventional presentation of art that includes a generous smattering of historical information, this exhibition was a “brand new exercise” for Jacques. Large, letter-sized text panels are prominently presented alongside the paintings.

Jacques says she “tried to think about how [the pieces] related to contemporary issues and ideas rather than how they related to art history.” Therefore, the informative text panels were meant to provoke viewers’ thoughts about contemporary issues and ideas on women.

The panels, inspired by Jacques’s own conversations with friends, present contemporary girl-related organizations and ideas. One of the panels introduces a summer camp, Girls Rock Camp Victoria, that encourages self-esteem, positive relationships, and confidence in young girls through music education. Another text panel discusses the “Because I am a Girl” initiative, launched by the international development agency Plan, which empowers girls in poverty by providing food, clean water, and educational opportunities. 

Other text panels introduce Cat’s Eye and Girls as sources of inspiration. The novel, released in 1988, describes the complexities, benefits, and pitfalls of female friendship in childhood and beyond. Similarly, the current HBO show has been critiqued and recognized for its sometimes controversial portrayal of young women in contemporary New York. But, she says, “despite all of that complexity, despite all of the discussions about how it’s bad to make women think that they have to be thin, it still happens that those are the dominant images that we see.” 

Part of what really interested Jacques is that Lena Dunham is constantly criticized for her appearance.

“She is so accomplished and successful. She is a very creative and innovative person, and yet all people can talk about is how she’s overweight and doesn’t dress well and that to me is really sad, that we still live in a society where people can’t look past a woman’s appearance to look at her intelligence and creativity.” 

For Jacques, the goal is “to provoke visitors to think about the connections between images and the real world.” The collection will be on display until Oct. 5.

For more information on gallery hours and admission, visit