“It wouldn’t be my life if I didn’t talk to Marilyn every day,” said artist Jill Slosburg-Ackerman. She was speaking during a Zoom discussion last week that marked the opening of the Radcliffe Institute’s first-ever online-only exhibition, “Accompanied: The Artworks of Marilyn Pappas and Jill Slosburg-Ackerman.” In photographs, recorded interviews, and interpretive essays, the show explores the two women’s decades-long bodies of work. Slosburg-Ackerman uses discarded furniture, sawdust, and wood scraps to build sculptures, installations, and drawings that recall the pragmatism and pioneer history of her native Omaha, Nebraska. Pappas creates large-scale textile works inspired by classical vases and sculptures of women and goddesses, which she has visited on numerous trips to the Mediterranean. Often broken and faded, the female bodies in these ancient artifacts still radiate strength. One recent installation series is called Nevertheless She Persisted, a title taken from the 2017 remark aimed at Senator Elizabeth Warren by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, which then became a feminist rallying cry.
But the Radcliffe exhibit is as much about the artists’ creative friendship as it is about their creative output—and the solidarity of two women artists carving out time and space for themselves and for each other during a period when women often struggled to find much of either. “Friendship offers a model of being-with-the-other, a mode of giving and receiving, that seems unbound by ideology or common thought,” writes Los Angeles-based writer Anya Ventura in an essay that accompanies the exhibit. “Friendship resists the totalizing forces of the group. Unlike family and marriage, friendship is not regulated by law, property, or blood. Friendship requires no certificates, licenses, paperwork, or formal tests—it remains, enticingly, beyond the purview of officialdom. We choose our friends and claim them in our private ways. And if the beat of the nuclear family is set to a uniform pace, friendship maintains a far stranger tempo.”