Professor Curates Smithsonian Exhibit That Examines Impact of Young Women on Society Through Intersectional Lens

color painting of many different young women
Exhibit entrance design by artist Krystal Quiles

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Mireya Loza, an associate professor in the Department of History, participated in the curation of an exhibit currently on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The exhibit, titled Girlhood (It’s Complicated) will be featured through January of 2022 and details the complexities of young womanhood through a myriad of aspects in society. 

“The exhibition was created to celebrate the centennial of Women’s Suffrage and explores Women’s History through the perspective of girls,” says Loza. “There is no better time to think about how girls shaped American History and how girls have always been on the frontline of change.”

Yes She Can

The 5,000-square-foot gallery takes an intersectional approach to women’s history through five story sections: political change (News and Politics), education (Being Schooled), wellness (Body Talk), work (Hey, Where’s My Girlhood?) and fashion (Girl’s Remix). Interspersed throughout the exhibit are interactive biographical stories titled A Girl’s Life that highlight particular stories of girls.  

In the design, Loza was careful to highlight the experiences of all girls, paying close attention to young women of color and girls who push back on gender boundaries. 

As part of the News and Politics section, the exhibit spotlights Naomi Wadler, a young woman who rose to prominence in 2018 as a leader in that year’s March for Our Lives that protested against gun violence in America.

Artwork for the Being Schooled section by artist Krystal Quiles

Building the Exhibit

Loza and her collaborators were inspired by zine culture and used the table of contents in magazines for the overarching topics of the exhibit. They worked with artist Krystal Quiles to make custom illustrations and mural designs for each section of the gallery. The professor said her team was impressed with how Quiles created entire scenes that captured that historical moment from a girls’ perspective. 

While the in-person exhibit will be on display at the Smithsonian throughout 2021, a web-based version is also available. A video introduction of the exhibit narrated by Loza is viewable at the bottom of the exhibit’s webpage

There is also a rich archive of additional content related to the exhibit accessible to the public, such as this video, From Girlhood to Inspiring a Movement, in which Loza speaks about Jessica Govea, a labor leader and organizer who was instrumental in the founding of the United Farm Workers union. 

Another story featured in the exhibit is that of Isabella Aiukli Cornell who used her prom dress to make a political statement.  Learn more about how her dress was collected here.   

The exhibition will tour the country through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service from 2023 through 2025.

Artwork for the News and Politics section by artist Krystal Quiles
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