“It is remarkable that they were created in the 1940s and 50s when they deviated so strongly from the media’s images of women as immobile housewives.”
Documentary Attempting to Rescue Artist’s Works
By: Julie Praetzel
With her bobbed hair, scandalously short dress, (it was said that “a bit of stocking can be shocking”) and Clara Bow lips, 25 year old Anita Rice looks every inch a glamorous fashion model in 1920s New York City.
But it would be very misleading to assume that she was a conventional woman. The modeling was really a cover for fashion piracy – whereby she used her drawing skills to copy down competitors’ designs for her employers. This work allowed her to save money for a solo voyage to Europe to follow her true passion in Art, which was a daring move for a woman. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were living as expatriates in Paris, so why couldn’t she?
She studied painting with Fernand Leger in Paris, but soon grew tired of her studies and wanted to see more of the world. Back in New York, Anita’s younger brother lost her savings in bad investments. Rather than panic or run back home crying, she continued on to Greece, where she sailed on tram steamers. Resourceful woman that she was, she discovered she could make a living drawing portraits of passengers and the ships’ officers.
She continued onto Egypt and met Russians who told her about a place in Algeria called Bou Saada (Arabic for “place of happiness”) that had a large European community and artists could live cheaply.
The adventurous young woman continued on to Bou Saada, which would prove to be the most fateful journey of her life.
In Bou Saada, she encountered the Ouled Nails, a Bedoin tribe famous for the seductive dancing of its women, which they did to make a living entertaining male tourists. Anita fell in love with the tribe’s culture and chose to live with the Ouled Nails for over four years, in spite of the disapproval of the European community there.
She made such an impression during her stay that there are people alive there today who still remember her. She traded her fashionable dresses for pants and a burnoose in order to venture out independently and ride horses amongst the men. She crossed the Sahara desert TWICE and was an opponent of colonialism as she viewed the Ouled Nails as her equals, which is apparent in the over 300 oil paintings and drawings she created of them.
Life as she knew it would change for Juanita in 1934 when she gave birth to a son, Djelloul. He was fathered by her guide, an Algerian named Ben Aissa ben Mabrouk, who also happened to be involved with another foreign Scottish woman. The other woman’s wealth made her ultimately more attractive, so Juanita left Algeria alone with her infant son (and his father’s name-becoming Juanita Marbrook) and returned to New York City with a new identity. She would later tell her young son that his father had died in a hunting accident, as he was dead to her and she never saw him again. Embracing the role of motherhood was not something she was able to do so she left her son with her sister so that she could continue to develop as an artist. She took classes with Hans Hoffman, whose other students included Jackson Pollock’s wife Lee Krasner, a talented artist in her own right.
Juanita’s drawings of nude women are striking in that she inflates the female form to give her subjects the physiques of first class prizefighters. There are no hints of fragility or delicacy present, as usually pervades the representation of women in art.
Perhaps influenced by the Ouled Nail women she lived with in Algeria, Juanita continued to paint Amazon-like warrior women who catch their own food and rule over their own worlds. It is remarkable that they were created in the 1940s and 50s when they deviated so strongly from the media’s images of women as immobile housewives.
Juanita was introduced to Dominic Guccione, her landlord, through her young son. They married and Juanita Marbrook became Juanita Guccione, the name she would paint with until her death in 1999 at the age of 95. She would leave over 800 paintings ranging from the realistic to the surrealistic, the abstract to the experimental and others beyond any ordinary models of categorization. She truly had a unique vision and could almost see into other universes.
One painting, completed in 1953, is entitled She Had Many
Faces, her most autobiographical painting according to her son. Torn theatrical red velvet curtains frame a faceless woman leaning over to one side from the weight of holding dozens of strings. Attached to the strings are many different masks—each with a different expression—ranging from cool composed poise to shock and agony. Some of the masks have escaped her grasp and fallen to the front of the “stage”. Today there is much critical discourse about gender as per-formative and the many “roles” or “masks” women have to wear each day to manage life as an obedient mother, daughter, sister, boss or coworker, lover/wife/girlfriend, friend, and one’s true face can often get muddled up with the rest of the masks. Paintings such as She Had Many Faces can assist women in understanding the complexities of ourselves and each other, and are deserving of greater attention and consideration.
Currently, the majority of the collection sits in her son’s basement. He, in his later years of life, is concerned what will happen to them after his passing, and so he has devoted his efforts to ensure the work is preserved; their future is still unknown.
A documentary on Juanita’s life and work, entitled She Had Many Faces has begun production. More funding is needed in order to continue production, and contributions are being accepted on the crowdfunding site www.indiegogo.com, where in exchange donors can receive works on and by Juanita.
To learn more about how you can help click Here!