Art exhibit aims to encourage girls and women to play chess

Oct 27, 2015

Women may not rule the world of chess but they do dominate an upcoming art exhibit around the game.

The World Chess Hall of Fame in the Central West End opens “Ladies’ Knight: The Female Perspective on Chess” Thursday evening. It includes the work of 12 female artists. Some pieces are regulation chess-board size. One is eight feet square with 13-inch-high pieces. Others are video installations.

Shannon Bailey with the Hall of Fame is curating the show. Of the artists, she said, “They all have a very unique interpretation of the game that they’re trying to give, or a unique message they’re trying to stress.”

A video and stills by chess champion Jennifer Shahade are from a game Shahade actually played with a naked man. The contest references a 1963 photograph of artist/chess player Marcel Duchamp playing against a nude woman.

World Chess Hall of Fame chief curator Shannon Bailey
Credit World Chess Hall of Fame

“Jenn wanted to flip that role of being the dominant figure and being clothed, a nice play on, ‘Why is it OK for the woman to be nude and not the male?’” Bailey said.

British chess grand master Nigel Short recently came under fire after saying women rarely rise to the top because of inherent differences between genders. In contrast, a 2009 study reported that the small sample size of women in chess is responsible for men’s higher achievement.

Of the 86 grand masters in the United States, only two are female. Girls start out playing chess at the same rate as boys but many drop out in their teenage years, according to Bailey.

“What we want to do is encourage more girls to start playing, and then the girls who are playing to keep playing,” Bailey said.

Local artist looks at Ferguson and beyond

Checkmate: Series I Prototype by Yuko Suga explores unrest following police shootings of African Americans.
Credit Michael DeFilippo

While the overall goal is to draw more women to chess, the show examines a variety of social-justice issues including addiction, notions of beauty and war.

St. Louisan Yuko Suga’s piece explores recent police shootings of African Americans and the protests that followed. Suga’s “Checkmate: Series I Prototype” features pieces representing protesters on one side and players standing in for police and other officials on the other.

The protest signs include familiar phrases such as “No Justice, No Peace” and “Black Lives Matter.” But the labels for the other side are detached and lying by the chess board. Suga said that’s because they are often interchangeable.

“It could be Jay Nixon and Al Sharpton and Bob McCulloch. Depending on the city, you could put different names on there,” Suga said.

Everyone will see it through their own lens, Suga said. But she hopes people will come away with the idea that everyone is human and has flaws.

“It’s about stepping back and saying, ‘I’m part of something  bigger, and am I contributing to coming together as community or to taking it apart?’” Suga said.

THE BASICS

‘Ladies’ Knight: The Female Perspective on Chess’

Where: World Chess Hall of Fame, 652 Maryland Ave., 63108

When: Opening reception 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 29; runs through Sept. 11, 2016

How much: Free ($5 donation suggested)

Information: World Chess Hall of Fame website

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL