Visu­al Arts

Women Hold­ing Things

  • Review
By – November 21, 2022

The con­ceit of Maira Kalman’s new col­lec­tion, Women Hold­ing Things, is, like its title, decep­tive­ly sim­ple. Her paint cap­tures gor­geous images of women in vibrant, sat­u­rat­ed col­ors hold­ing objects: red bal­loons, hon­ey, lip­stick, and more. Some of the women are famous; some are rel­a­tives. Some of the women are ordi­nary, seen in the park, on the street, wan­der­ing in the world with or with­out pur­pose, liv­ing their lives. All of the women are intrigu­ing, ground­ed or ani­mat­ed by what they hold. Kalman is a mas­ter­ful artist — she con­tributes fre­quent­ly to the New York Times and the New York­er, has col­lab­o­rat­ed with Isaac Mizrahi, Kate Spade, and Mark Mor­ris, and has won numer­ous awards — and her genius nec­es­sar­i­ly shows in this collection.

Women Hold­ing Things explores the things that women hold, not only objects but also emo­tions, ideas, space, and con­cepts — the things’ of the world that are often inef­fa­ble but pow­er­ful­ly present in the mind. Pag­ing through Women Hold­ing Things is both exhil­a­rat­ing and exhaust­ing. Kalman com­bines images with care­ful, well-wrought language.

The vignettes of Women Hold­ing Things are cer­tain to res­onate with many read­ers. Kalman deft­ly moves from the fan­ci­ful, to the famil­ial, to the uni­ver­sal. She nods to his­to­ry, inter­weav­ing both the hero­ic and the mun­dane. By the end, she ren­ders a world that speaks to con­tem­po­rary life. Kalman affirms both the pow­er and per­il of hold­ing; she acknowl­edges the tri­umphs and joys of life while rec­og­niz­ing dis­ap­point­ment, dis­con­so­la­tion, and despair. And through it all, Women Hold­ing Things exhorts read­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly women, to con­tin­ue: to read, to find beau­ty, and to hold on.

Julie R. Ensz­er is the author of four poet­ry col­lec­tions, includ­ing Avowed, and the edi­tor of Out­Write: The Speech­es that Shaped LGBTQ Lit­er­ary Cul­ture, Fire-Rimmed Eden: Select­ed Poems by Lynn Loni­di­erThe Com­plete Works of Pat Park­er, and Sis­ter Love: The Let­ters of Audre Lorde and Pat Park­er 1974 – 1989. Ensz­er edits and pub­lish­es Sin­is­ter Wis­dom, a mul­ti­cul­tur­al les­bian lit­er­ary and art jour­nal. You can read more of her work at www​.JulieREn​sz​er​.com.

Discussion Questions