The Portrait Gallery’s first-ever performance art series, IDENTIFY, focuses attention on activism, visibility, and experimentation in portraiture. This Thursday, artist J. J. McCracken examines the history of women penalized for publicly expressed opinions.
The Mouth of the Scold grows out of McCracken's The Huntress (2012), which examined the 1829 arrest of Capitol Hill resident Anne Newport Royall, one of America's first female journalists. McCracken uses Royall's trial and its wider challenge to free speech to construct a portrait of a contemporary woman peering at her gender through the lens of the past.
Here’s what McCracken says about her performance:
“The Mouth of the Scold” re-envisions the National Portrait Gallery's Great Hall—a traditionally male-dominated space—with the installation of a female presence. It honors Marion B. Dunlevy and the long lineage of American women who were convicted as "common scolds." This archaic charge targeted "troublesome and angry women" who disturbed the peace by habitually arguing in public.
In 1972—the year I was born—Dunlevy became the first woman to legally beat the common scold charge on the grounds of unconstitutionality. The law remains on the books in at least three states, including Maryland, where I live. Dunlevy's triumph sets a precedence for equality in free speech that we can now use in a court of law to gain our own freedom.
“The Mouth of the Scold” performance honors the defiance, strength, and hard-earned freedom of these women, as well as the legacy they leave to the rest of us.
McCracken’s performance will take place in the museum’s Great Hall on Thursday, February 4 at 5:30 p.m. Associate Curator Dorothy Moss will introduce the performance. For more information, visit our website.
Support for the IDENTIFY performance art series has been provided by an anonymous donor, the Philip and Elizabeth Ryan Fund, the Director’s Visionary Fund, Carol and John Boochever, The Skanby + Gould Foundation, and other individual contributions.