The conceit of Maira Kalman’s new collection, Women Holding Things, is, like its title, deceptively simple. Her paint captures gorgeous images of women in vibrant, saturated colors holding objects: red balloons, honey, lipstick, and more. Some of the women are famous; some are relatives. Some of the women are ordinary, seen in the park, on the street, wandering in the world with or without purpose, living their lives. All of the women are intriguing, grounded or animated by what they hold. Kalman is a masterful artist — she contributes frequently to the New York Times and the New Yorker, has collaborated with Isaac Mizrahi, Kate Spade, and Mark Morris, and has won numerous awards — and her genius necessarily shows in this collection.
Women Holding Things explores the things that women hold, not only objects but also emotions, ideas, space, and concepts — the ‘things’ of the world that are often ineffable but powerfully present in the mind. Paging through Women Holding Things is both exhilarating and exhausting. Kalman combines images with careful, well-wrought language.
The vignettes of Women Holding Things are certain to resonate with many readers. Kalman deftly moves from the fanciful, to the familial, to the universal. She nods to history, interweaving both the heroic and the mundane. By the end, she renders a world that speaks to contemporary life. Kalman affirms both the power and peril of holding; she acknowledges the triumphs and joys of life while recognizing disappointment, disconsolation, and despair. And through it all, Women Holding Things exhorts readers, particularly women, to continue: to read, to find beauty, and to hold on.
Julie R. Enszer is a scholar and poet. She is the author of four collections of poetry: Avowed, Lilith’s Demons, Sisterhood, and Handmade Love, and is the editor of The Complete Works of Pat Parker and Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry.