Sunday, July 17, 2016

Art and Politics

Woodcut by Nomi Silverman in 440 Gallery's group show 
"Personal is Political is Personal" juried by Sue Coe 

The past few weeks have been an escalating nightmare across the world and at home: the Orlando massacre, then the bombings in Istanbul and Bangladesh followed by the police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, the bloodbath in Dallas, then terror in Nice and the attempted coup in Turkey.  When 440 Gallery chose the theme several months ago for our summer juried group show “Personal is Political is Personal” we were focused on the fact that it is an election year.  National elections tend to magnify all sorts of issues—from gun control to women’s rights, the criminal justice system and the scourge of racism and bigotry. The unspoken dread was that, unfortunately, the chances were high that by the time the show opened in summer—there would be blood. 

We are artists.  What can artists possibly do to effect change? This exhibit, juried by Sue Coe, is one lamp lit in the darkness of despair. It is not an escapist fantasy nor a dirge but a kindling of ideas.  Some of the work is heavy, sad or provocative but when these emotions are channeled through the mind and hands of an artist the art object itself becomes the reality, we are one step removed from our own trauma.  We have space to breathe, to process and to respond.

Ibn Randall’s work is commentary on race, inclusion, beauty and judgment but these works on paper are also captivating as art: boldly graphic, deftly drawn and technically mirroring the philosophical content of the piece.  Black text is stamped over the images, the lettering slightly abraded like a fading billboard.  The shading and half tones of black and white imagery, a combination of exquisite drawing and screen printing, echo the struggle to overcome the limitations of a life reduced to black and white.

Dale Williams’ paintings and drawings evoke the angst of our times. His paintings are populated by pathetic creatures, antlike, wearing cement shoes, wielding weapons or begging for something.  These tortured souls are the descendants of Ensor’s “Scream,” fragile humanity trapped in a hostile environment. 

--> We are drawn into the guarded exchange of  border control with Ann Stoddard’s video installation.  Our presence in the gallery is recorded by a camera and we become part of the video.  Innocuous questions flashed on the screen are weighted with criminal innuendo.

Divine Williams’ photograph of two young children stirs a conversation. They are holding hand scrawled signs that say “Hands Up” and “Justice for Mike Brown.”  Are they part of the somber Black Lives Matter march in another of William’s photographs on view here?  These two children completely disarm the viewer with their innocent faces, smiling reflexively for the camera.   

Textiles have been featured in juried shows at 440 over the past several years and Sue Coe has chosen some exquisite examples in this traditionally feminine medium.  Bethany Taylor’s medieval banners depict contemporary  conflict with embroidered titles in English and Latin.  Eva Capobianco’s homage to her childhood cowgirl outfit is a tour de force of lush needlepoint that invites discourse about our violent culture and girl-power.  Katrina Majkut uses cross stitching—a style of  needlework associated with prim religious axioms sewn by virginal young ladies-in-training to show us images of pregnancy tests and the morning after pill.

This is a show that provokes and engages us or enrages us.  It creates a space for thought, for discussion, for hope, revulsion and empathy.  This is what artists can do to effect change: we can provide a safe place to work all this out.