Tom Willis, "Arab Spring"
Eric Raddatz, "Moral Monday"
Anne Gregory, "Reclaiming the Temple of St. Manoubia for the Women of Tunisia"
Maria DeGuzman and Carisa Showden, "The Business of Papers Versus the Light All Around"
Thursday night (August 29th) was the first of two artists’ talks at Pleiades Gallery about the show “Truth to Power,” an exhibit of political and social justice-themed artwork by 39 NC artists. Sixteen of the participating artists were present for the event and explained to the crowd the inspiration, creative process, and motivation for their work. Some of the strongest magic in art comes from the backstory – learning the why and how a particular piece is created – and understanding the deeper context infused in the artwork.
One painting that requires further investigation is Reclaiming the Temple for St. Manoubia and the Women of Tunisia, by Anne Gregory. Anne made this painting as a reaction to the deliberate burning of a shrine in Tunis dedicated to a female Muslim saint, Manoubia, who is the patron saint to the poor, the sick, and to women. The destruction of this temple in 2012 outraged the people of Tunis who are working to rebuild the structure. The shrine’s dome was the starting point for Anne’s composition. Painted in fiery hues, concentric patterns move around the center of the painting like the ritual Sufi spinning dances that were held in the temple. The radial design also suggests a Mandala – an ancient spiritual motif that represents the universe and rejuvenation. Although the reds of the painting are a color associated with violence, they also symbolize birth. To Anne, the painting is a projection of empowerment to women in Tunisia, and to women everywhere, who work to change the climate of oppression and exploitation that women face. She dedicates it to those who share the vision of a world without violence against women and to those who have the vigilance and courage to bring about that change.
A highlight of the evening was Maria DeGuzman’s discussion of her collaboration with Carisa Showden, The Business of Papers Versus the Light All Around. This piece is a photo-haiku hybrid showing a man holding papers that plays with size and perspective. Maria and Carisa use fantastical miniatures and uncanny relations of scale to provoke viewers to question the borders and boundaries by which we define one kind of “matter” or being, and differentiate it from another. Indeed, the audience was amazed when Maria brought forth the minute figurine captured in the image. The “minikin,” as she calls them, was presented in a small ring box and stood about ½” tall. It was a delight to see the actual scale of her model in contrast to the large photograph, and it reinforced her comments about tricks in size and perspective.
Eric Raddatz spoke about his experience at a Moral Monday rally captured in his photograph, Moral Monday (July 8, 2013). He passionately read an essay he wrote based on the events of that day, the memories they evoked, and the flag that waved above the crowd:
“Standing among the thousands gathered protesting the changes imminent, my sweat soaked t-shirt sticking to me like a bad memory, we pressed close to hear the speakers exclaim our resistance, trying not to touch lest we melt in the humid cloud clinging, as one we cheered and chanted, my memories rising like the scent of funeral flowers wilting on a grave: Long marches down city streets yelling the slogans of hate as the Buffalo Springfield sang “Something’s happening here!”; black children soaking and screaming as the law dogs give chase; fire hoses spitting their foaming bile of fear; police with clubs swinging, beating their truth of submission; cracked heads bleeding; gunshots ringing; four students dead; a black man lay still on a balcony, his life sacrificed for truths inalienable. Dizzy with the effort to hold back my tears, I looked to the sky seeking some solace in the hope of God’s truth of love and compassion to push back the fear of what was and hold to the hope of the now. There held high with a pride born in freedoms fought and died for, was the symbol that united us all, For or Against, The Flag of The United States of America, waving softly in the hot air drifting over our heads. My memories fade as the disobedient march past to the inevitable arrest before them, their heads held high with the truth of their convictions as we voiced our thanks for their courage and power to stand in our stead.”
If you missed Thursday’s discussion, there will be another opportunity to interact with the artists in this exhibit and learn about their artwork on Thursday, September 5, from 6-8 pm. The Truth to Power exhibit will be on display at Pleiades Gallery from August 14 – September 15, 2013. Pleiades Gallery is at 109 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham, NC 27701.