Paid, Unpaid... Women's Work Visualized in Sculptures by Sawyer Rose

March 22, 2021

Karen Gutfreund, Guest Curator of Agency: Feminist Art and Power

We’ve now passed over a year in shutdown from the Covid-19 pandemic. While there is light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines becoming available, it’s hard to capture the scope and impact it has had on our lives, particularly for the caregivers who are primarily women. While writing this blog, thinking of feminist art and intersections in our daily lives, a Beatles song keeps popping up, “Places I'll remember, all my life though some have changed, some forever, not for better, some have gone and some remain.”

This past pandemic year has seemed a blur with one day easing into the next. The lockdown had not changed as much for me as I quietly work away at curating exhibitions and my own art in a new location with my small family bubble. But this is not the case for so many women in the United States and globally. The work/life/home burden(s) for women were magnified tenfold during this time. The work of Sawyer Rose captures this imbalance perfectly, reflecting not just the past year but from years of systemic expectations for the role of women in society.

Sawyer Rose, Amira, 2017, Faux leather, wire, thread, silver solder, acrylic and Archival pigment print, Edition of 3, 72 x 180 x 96 inches and 36 x 24 inches

The life/work imbalance makes me think of the prevalent, stereotypical gender norms and expectations that still affect women both in the workplace and home. To raise awareness during Women’s History Month, I wanted to reflect on the important and beautiful work of Sawyer Rose that addresses gender work inequities. Her work Amira will be in the upcoming exhibition Agency: Feminist Art and Power, curated by me, opening in January 2022.

Sawyer Rose is a sculptor, installation, and social practice artist. Born and raised in North Carolina and a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, she currently lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Throughout her career, Rose has used her artwork to shine a spotlight on contemporary social and ecological issues. The work with the Carrying Stones Project addresses women’s work. She uses art and data visualization to show the inequities that women in our society live with regarding paid and unpaid labor.

Sawyer Rose

Rose explores this double burden carried by women who have paid jobs but are also responsible for most of the home/domestic labor. The works are data visualizations created from information gathered from women who tracked the hours they spend on paid, unpaid work and leisure time. These works are personal narratives of women of diverse ages, ethnicities, working roles, and socio-economic statuses. Rose uses this unique combination of art and science to portray these findings, manifesting into large-scale installations. Her art tells a story that helps the viewer better understand the vast number of work hours each woman clocks in. Rose completes these stories by photographing the woman lifting and carrying her unique sculpture, bearing the burden of her hours in a real and physical way.

Sawyer Rose, Amira, 2017, Faux leather, wire, thread, silver solder, acrylic and Archival pigment print, Edition of 3, 72 x 180 x 96 inches and 36 x 24 inches

And the assigned value of this unpaid work is quite high. In 2016, Benjamin Bridgman at the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that if this value was included in national accounts, it would increase U.S. GDP by almost 4 trillion dollars, or 23%. This figure is astounding and shines a light on the importance of recognizing and addressing this issue. Rose’s art is significant because it helps us to illuminate the degree and amount of invisible labor that is managed by women, in lieu of them pursuing their own careers as freely as men in our gendered society.

Sawyer Rose says, “Before Covid-19, data shows that mothers who also had jobs outside of the home were shouldering 35 hours of unpaid domestic labor per week. But then during the pandemic, those same women are now averaging 65 hours per week on household tasks and childcare on top of their paid work. Additionally, women who earn less have fewer backup options as schools and care facilities remain closed.”

Statistically, in the U.S., women average more than four hours of unpaid labor in their homes and their communities each day. American women are doing almost twice as much cooking, cleaning, caring, and volunteer work as men, even if they are working full-time jobs.

In looking at this pattern through a wider lens, these extra burdens shouldered by women with the result is setting back overall progress on gender equity in the workplace. In response to the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, one in four US women are considering downsizing their careers or even leaving the workforce altogether, due to unshared domestic responsibilities. 25% of women--that is a staggering number!

This is not happening to men at the same time.

“No matter how far today’s women ‘Lean In,’ it’s hard to be the CEO when they are also the head chef, janitor, and caregiver,” says Sawyer Rose.

Rose’s goal in creating this work is to build bridges of understanding for those that may have never thought about these issues before. New work in progress will reflect on women in academia, mothers with children with disabilities, and women with family members that are incarcerated. She says, “The individual stories may not represent your life or your current situation, but they definitely depict the lives of many women you know and love, women who work with you or for you.”

She also has created a series of wall works that uses this data visualization to help explain some of the most hotly debated current labor issues: the gender pay gap and unequal representation of women in leadership positions.

Currently, women in the U.S. earn 81 cents for every dollar men make. This is the raw pay gap, which looks at the median salary for all men and women regardless of job type or worker seniority, but the disparity in pay widens for minorities. Black women, for example, earn 61 cents for every dollar that their White male counterparts are paid, the pay for Hispanic women is even lower.

Always optimistic and positive, Rose says “The good news, though, is that everyone can reap the benefits of a gender-equitable workforce: increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP), more profitable businesses, and healthier, happier partners and children.” She is working with lawmakers to address these issues of unequal pay and our system of caregiving in the US.

I cannot wait for Agency to open and to be able to share this powerful exhibition with the community. I look forward to celebrating Sawyer’s visually beautiful and eloquent work and her vision, telling important stories that benefit us all.


More about Sawyer Rose:

More about Agency: Feminist Art and Power:


About Karen Gutfreund

Karen Gutfreund has lived in all four corners of the United States but has now settled in the Bay Area in California from New York City. She has worked in the Painting & Sculpture Department for MoMA, Andre Emmerick Gallery, The Knoll Group, John Berggruen Gallery, and the Pacific Art League. She specializes in creating exhibitions in venues around the U.S. on themes of feminism and “art as activism” to stimulate dialog, raise consciousness, and encourage social change. Karen has been actively involved on the board of various arts organizations, is a member of ArtTable, and serves as the Northern California Representative for TFAP (The Feminist Art Project), and a partner in Gutfreund Cornett Art. Karen is also an artist, specializing in text-based activist/messaging art. She actively promotes the work of other artists as a curator with national touring exhibitions. Gutfreund resides in Windsor, California, with her family and is also building a ranch outside of Yosemite where she plans to host artist residencies.

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The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.