Lily Lee

The Great Basin Murders

November 9 – December 7, 2019

Read our interview with the artist here.

Curatorial Statement

by Scott Gleeson

The history of Western art is replete with representations of sexual violence against women. In ancient Greece, the rape of Persephone, goddess of grain, by Hades, god of the underworld, offered a mythical explication of the changing seasons. The theme of rape, often euphemized as abduction, was common throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods in the paintings and sculptures of such male artists as Giambologna, Bernini, Rubens, and Titian. Representations by female artists are extremely rare and only entered the canon through the pioneering efforts of feminist art historians like Linda Nochlin and Mary Garrard. The paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656), portraying such biblical and historical subjects as Judith slaying Holofernes and the suicide of Lucretia, stand as iconic examples of rape victims reclaiming their agency through reciprocal violence against their attackers or against themselves.

In the context of second-wave feminism, female artists similarly challenged patriarchal representations of rape for normalizing violence against women. Beginning in 1973, confrontational, interventionist projects like Ana Mendieta’s Untitled (Self-portrait with blood) (6 works) and Suzanne Lacy’s Three Weeks in May (1977) responded directly to violent crimes committed against women in their communities. These participatory works sought to shock viewers into a state of heightened awareness while fostering public dialogue. In the last decade, recent projects continue to deploy aesthetic tactics developed by feminist artists in the 1970s and 80s while benefitting from added momentum following the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 as well as intersectional feminisms that acknowledge the interdependence of gender, race, and class in systems of oppression. Jennifer Karady’s Soldiers’ Stories (2008-present) combine compelling narrative photographic portraits of US combat veterans with the sitter’s written autobiographical account of victimization at the hands of fellow soldiers, thus building upon Lacy’s earlier dialogical approach. Métis artist Jaime Black’s REDress Project (2011-14) draws attention to an epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women as viewers discover red dresses suspended in unlikely locations across the National Mall and select university campuses. Black’s use of the macabre and uncanny parallel similar tactics deployed by Mendieta.

The new weavings of Idaho sculptor Lily Lee operate within this feminist art historical tradition dating to Artemisia Gentileschi. Titled The Great Basin Murders, this series commemorates unidentified female murder victims found along roadsides from 1983-1997 in the Great Basin region of the American West. Taking the form of burial shrouds, these computer-designed, handmade weavings encode extant data about each Jane Doe in the structure of the cloth, referencing the victims’ height, skin color, adornments, clothing, and manner of death. Each shroud is also represented by a photograph showing it installed in the landscape at the sight the corpse was discovered. Brief didactic texts relate basic facts of the discovery in the same sterile tone characteristic of the crime databases from which the artist mines content. About this project the artist writes, “The labor and materiality of the handweaving draw on the history of feminist activism embedded in the craft to highlight the story of each victim, bringing attention to the persistent issues of violence against women.” In its attempt to restore agency to the victims, The Great Basin Murders allows silence and stillness to echo the silenced voices of the victims, thereby amplifying the brutal nature of these unsolved crimes and issuing an implicit critique of a legal justice system that routinely fails to protect women. Yet, Lee’s vision is not without hope: art and ritual offer pathways to healing, and (re)experiencing the death of the Other forges what philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy calls the inoperable community, a brand of collective experience that emerges only upon the death of one of its members.

Artist Project Statement

In my current body of work I am handweaving burial shrouds to commemorate the victims of the Great Basin Murders. The term ‘the Great Basin Murders’ has been loosely used by journalists to characterize a series of homicides from the 1970’s to the 1990’s in which female victims were found along the region’s highways. While some victims have been identified, many have not, and very few cases have been solved. Although some of these homicides may be directly connected they are not likely the work of one individual, but rather a phenomenon of multiple perpetrator’s using the highways of the Great Basin region as dumpsites.

The labor and materiality of the handweaving draw on the history of feminist activism embedded in the craft to highlight the story of each victim, bringing attention to the persistent issues of violence against women. Using Fiberworks, a weaving software program, I develop original weave patterns with data from each victim of the Great Basin Murders including height, weight and age estimates of the victim as well as the date and GPS coordinates of when and where the victim was located. The density of the weaving communicates the postmortem interval. While this work is an attempt to broach the anonymity of unidentified human remains through devotional craft, the resulting woven panels often remain visually austere illustrating the absence of information that characterizes many cold cases.


Lily Martina Lee is an American artist who was born in Pullman, Washington. She earned a BFA in Fibers and a BA in American Indian Studies from the University of Washington, and a MFA in Sculpture from the University of Oregon. Lee has exhibited her work in the Ukraine, Portugal, Hungary, Italy and Greece and in numerous exhibitions throughout the United States including Northwest Art Now at the Tacoma Art Museum and the Commuter Biennial in Miami, Florida. She lives and works in Boise, Idaho where she is an Associate Professor of Sculpture at Boise State University.


Nov. 20, 10am – Wind River Movie Discussion

Nov. 20, 3pm – Gallery Tour

Nov. 25, 6-7:30 – Artist & Curator Talk (Huber Auditorium)

**Due to a technical error, livestreaming is unavailable. Check back soon for a video of the talk.

Dec. 5, 4-5pm – Coffee with the Curator