Nancy Belfer , The Peace Conference, 2011; fiber and mixed media, 39 x 23 2 inches; Gift of the Artist
Labels by Madeline Friedler, MST 622, Researching & Presenting Museum Collections, 2020
Textiles are a cornerstone of human civilization, almost as much as violence has been. This artwork from Nancy Belfer’s feminist Shield Series reflects on mankind’s most archaic practices and considers their influence. Conflict can be read through the clashing of mixed media and the turbulent patterns within them. Waves of fabric crash against each other and islands of inserted collaged materials. Men in starched white collars depict the London Treaty of 1604, showing just how long violence and peace have been cycling. At first glance, even the small army men lined above appear threatening with their weapons. But these childhood playthings are quickly overpowered by the peace that overwhelms them. All around the violence is an organic feminine shape protecting those within it. Belfer has created a shield that brings calm and reason to a crowd that hardly notices it themselves. When looking back through history, we find recurring violence; but its counterpart peace will always be not far behind.
Peace is hard to do sometimes. There can be so many different things going on at once that it all blends together. After times of bad violence, people will join forces, talk about how it happened, and decide how to fix it. With so much to figure it out, though, it can be hard to find peace without hurting anyone else’s feelings. You can’t make everybody happy, but you can compromise. Sometimes people get so angry that they want to hurt other people; but everyone always has the greatest power of all: the power to choose how they react. And the hardest, but most rewarding choice is to be peaceful when others want revenge. Look at this artwork. All these different little parts could be fighting with each other. They are so different. How could they get along? The artist chose to unite them within a big shield so they have become something bigger than they could ever be apart.
Over the course of human history, art has traced the rise and fall of great civilizations, the tragedies of war, and countless triumphs of human spirit and creativity. Among the earliest vestiges of our past are artifacts and fragments carved from stone, wood, or bone, as well as paintings and drawings on cave walls, and vessels formed from earthen clay. Textiles illustrate an advanced level of sophistication among the earliest arts, requiring skilled manipulation of natural fibers to be dyed, woven, tied, knotted, stitched and embellished. Out of this tradition, literally tens of thousands of years old, emerges Nancy Belfer— an artist who has produced a wide range of works that respect techniques from antiquity and reflect both a 21st-century aesthetic and complex allegorical meaning. Her feminist Shield Series, which includes The Peace Conference, demonstrates her concerned appeal for world peace suggested by archaeological evidence of architectural fragments, flames and floods, historic peace conferences, and a utopian vision.
Nancy Belfer is a textile artist and retired professor of design from Buffalo State College. Her experiments with materials and techniques have yielded results that are encrypted with personal symbols, articulated with a contemporary sensibility. Textiles, one of the oldest art forms, may be read like paintings. They have a long tradition of providing narratives—images of everyday life, historic and political events, religious allegories, and the landscape. Belfer usually prefers abstraction and referencing the objective world within the details of a large composition. —Nancy Weekly, 2012