MoCA Westport announces the acquisition of a new permanent human rights teaching exhibition

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MoCA Westport announces the acquisition of a new permanent human rights teaching exhibition
Artist Ann Weiner. Photo by Stacy Bass Photography.

WESTPORT, CONN.- MoCA Westport (formerly the Westport Arts Center) announced that When Caged Birds Sing, a Human Rights Teaching exhibition created by esteemed Westport, CT-based artist Ann Weiner, has been acquired for its permanent collection.

Weiner is a long-time resident of Westport, CT who has had a tremendous impact on the artistic community through her works of art, writings, teaching and philanthropy. She has participated in numerous solo exhibitions and group exhibitions throughout her career.

The exhibition will be on view at MoCA Westport every 3-5 years and loaned to other museums and university museums in between.

When Caged Birds Sing features eight life-size sculptures representing current women’s rights activists who suffered and survived abuse because of their gender, and who continue to advocate for the rights of others at risk. The title of the exhibition is based on the Maya Angelou poem, Caged Bird, which includes the refrain, “The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

Through assemblage art, Weiner has shined a spotlight on categories of lethal abuse including sex trafficking, kidnapping, transphobia, female genital mutilation (FGM), honor killings, domestic abuse, the conversion of kidnapped girls into sex slaves and killers by rebel armies, merciless Taliban law and transphobia.

Weiner conceived of the idea for the exhibition after reading a book about the abolitionist Grimke sisters (The Invention of Wings) by Sue Monk Kidd, and was inspired by the Grimkes’ appearance in one of the most famous works of early feminist art, “The Dinner Party,” by Judy Chicago.

Of the exhibition, Weiner stated, “I tell the stories of these incredible women in the hope that their voices will be heard, their suffering will be seen, and that more of the world will rise up to prevent the abuses they have endured, which are still inflicted on their mothers, sisters, and daughters.”

Ruth Mannes, Executive Director of MoCA Westport, stated, “We are deeply honored to be selected as the guardians of these incredibly moving and poignant works. These stories of survival, social justice, and advocating for others need to be seen. Visitors to the exhibition will walk away with a new sense of responsibility to others and will have a deepened understanding of how their actions can have an impact.”

Weiner explained, “I support the notion of American author and poet Caroline Randall Williams, who stated ‘Museums celebrate, preserve, and catalogue the human condition, its history, its accomplishments and its art. And it follows then that we must be concerned with the people behind these museum worthy artifacts, their ways of being, their wellness, their lived experiences.’”

When Caged Birds Sing is MoCA Westport’s first permanent collection. In addition to these works, MoCA Westport will continue to present a diverse range of solo and group exhibitions in its two galleries, featuring a balance of both local and international artists.

The exhibition shares the stories of dispersed cultures and histories tied together by the human condition–specifically, the circumstances and bodies of women. Through Weiner’s execution of strong, rough and often violent materials and handling, each figure also possesses an indomitable and elated spirit—the artworks and environments are sculpted with meticulous care and love. By assembling objects ranging from birdcages and lace to guns and barbed wire, stoic female sculptures emerge, each offering their unique story and situation with weight and elation, violence and peace.

This exhibition educates an audience with both literal stories and a humanistic, visceral approach. The life-sized sculptures are confrontational–challenging the viewer’s empathy and ability to see beyond one’s conventional, personal and comfortable spaces–to take on the histories and lives of women throughout the world. Some of the works are extremely life-like while others are more representative of the woman’s overall experience.

When Caged Birds Sing includes two well-known women, Malala Yousafzai, a survivor of Talibanization who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Laverne Cox, a survivor of transphobia who was the breakout star of the TV series “Orange is the New Black,” and is now a transgender advocate.

Although the additional women included in the exhibition may not have the same name recognition, they efforts are extremely notable, including (more information is available on

● Grace Akallo, a survivor of Joseph Kony's Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda in 1996, who became an advocate for the children of Northern Africa

● Maria da Penha Fernandes, a survivor of domestic violence in Brazil, whose determination led to new domestic violence law in her country

● Waris Dirie, a survivor of FGM in Somalia who went on to create The Desert Flower Foundation to help eradicate the practice

● Mukhtar Ma’i, who survived honor-based violence in Pakistan and built a school and refuge for young girls

● Nujood Ali, a child bride survivor of Yemen whose autobiography helped changed the laws surrounding the practice of child marriage

● Jhinna Pinchi, a survivor of sex trafficking who was the first person to face her abusers in court in Peru; she was recognized as a Trafficking in Persons Court Hero

When Caged Birds Sing debuted at Brown University (Cohen Gallery) in Providence, R.I. in 2017 and was later on view at Housatonic Museum (Burt Chernow Gallery) in 2018, and at Southern Connecticut State University (Bueley Gallery) in 2019.

Ann Weiner

Weiner completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at Queens College and subsequently pursued careers both as an art teacher and as the art director of a noted apparel company. In 1997, she left her teaching and commercial design career to reenter the studio and begin her career as an exhibiting artist.

Her work has been represented by the Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe, NM since the early 1990s, including her one-person lenticular traveling exhibition, Transient Images, which was shown at the Midwest Museum of American Art (Indiana), the Parkersburg Art Center (West Virginia), and the Anderson Museum of Art (Indiana).

She was the recipient of a Silvermine Living Art Award in 2017, celebrating preeminent thought leadership in Art Education. Along with her late husband Sid, Weiner also sponsored the Bill Sessions Woodworking Center at Silvermine Arts Center, providing woodworking and sculpture classes for the community.

The Weiners are also the sponsors of the A Better Chance (ABC) of Westport’s Glendarcy House, named in memory of their two eldest children. The organization provides motivated, outstanding minority youth with the opportunity to achieve their dreams through education.

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