equal: a work in progress

05.21.2019 – 09.17.2020

Missoula-based painter and photographer, Kristi Hager, is making equality a work in progress in a series of larger-than-life paintings of women. Inspired by the 2020 centennial of women’s suffrage, Hager says, “I was thinking of the long struggle to get equal rights for a lot of people, not just women.” With the exception of Justice Ginsburg, this series of portraits highlights women from the artist’s own circle who are working to overcome adversity. “I started with my great grandmother, mother, goddaughter, friends, and a hero,” said Hager. All the women in the show have experienced some form of gender discrimination. “Ask any woman you know, and you are likely to hear a story. I hope the young girls included in the exhibition do not have the same kinds of stories to tell in the future.”

Each work was painted in acrylic on cotton scrim and is titled with the individual’s initials. Near Hager’s self-portrait, KJH, are portraits of her mother, NEH, and great-grandmother, AMM. “My great grandmother died in 1924. She could have voted, but my guess is maybe not. Grossmutter Metz was a citizen but she did not speak English, according to my mother.” Hager adds, “We stand on the shoulders of giants and we are asked to be giants for the next generation. Our time here is short, but important.”

The installation threads throughout the first floor of the museum, connecting the YAM’s series of 2020 exhibitions that offer diverse perspectives on the theme

of “women’s work.” Painted on thin, un-stretched muslin using washes of gray paint, the works are translucent. The contours of each succeeding portrait are visible through the last, linking generations of women.  Hager depicts each subject in a head-and-shoulders portrait, unsmiling. Her subjects return the viewer’s gaze, projecting competence, confidence, and quiet power.

Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.

The Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution was introduced to Congress in 1923 and the Senate approved the amendment in 1972. However, it fell short of the required ratification by 38 states. “I thought the ERA would become a law in my lifetime,” said Hager, “but it continues to be a work in progress.”

This project has received support from the PROP Foundation

Exhibition Sponsors


Deborah Anspach & Dr. John Hanson

The Carolyn K. Ennis Family Living Trust

Cenex Harvest States (CHS)