Mother of War

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Peter Passuntino, Mother of War, 1969, Oil on canvas, 69/5 x 61/5 in.

During the 1960s the poignant images and narrative of the Vietnam War had far reaching effects on generations of American and Vietnamese citizens. In America, the civilian resistance to this war was wider spread than any previous historical conflict and it gave rise to new forms of progressive grassroots movements that were active in multiple facets of American life. The Anti-War movement was also emotionally supported through the vibrant music and fine arts scene. For example, the cost of the war in terms of physical and psychological devastation was the inspiration for Peter Passuntino’s yearlong series of works that expressed his anxiety and disgust with the Vietnam War. 

Passuntino was working as an artist in New York, while the war in Vietnam was happening. At that period, coffins carrying the bodies of young men were arriving in droves, and due to the mandatory draft, friends and loved ones were separated from each other with uncertainty as to whether they’d ever be reunited.  The visions and first hand accounts of the trauma surrounding the Vietnam War compelled the artist to create a grotesque vessel, using paint, pastel, and ink, that would express the horrific nature of war and the turbulent issues like social justice that we’re still dissecting and grappling with today. He aptly titled the resulting works “Mother of War.”

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Separate, not equal: A Look at the Problematic discourse of African American subject matter at the Whitney Biennial.

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Dana Schutz’s Open Casket (2016) & Henry Taylor’s The Times Thay Aint A Changing, Fast Enough! (2017)

 

Every two years, the Whitney Museum presents a survey of the most topical, and aesthetically profound works of art being made in America, at least in respect to the vision of the appointed curator(s). Often this means that there is a certain bias and a string of controversy or criticism directed at the Biennial’s selection and display of artworks. This year’s show was no exception, in fact, the controversy and criticism has been amplified to a level that has not  (in my memory) ever been experienced in the show’s history.  The following critique will comment upon the controversy around the display of a painting of Emmett Till by Dana Schutz (a white female painter), and compare it to a painting by Henry Taylor (an African American painter) portraying the murder of Philando Castile at the hands of the Police. While Taylor’s painting has been celebrated, Schutz’s painting has faced opposition by those who have advocated not only for its removal from the show, but for its physical destruction.

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Nor Any Drop to Drink

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I am pleased to announce the opening of an exhibition I am curating at El Taller Latino Americano’s Grady Alexis Gallery (215 East 99th Street, NYC).

Nor any drop to drink.

January 6 thru February 3, 2017.
Opening Reception: January 6th from 6 to 8pm.

Curated by Adam Zucker

Participating artists:

Vanessa Albury, Jacinto Astiazarán, Alli Miller, Jay Milder, Rifka Milder, Emilia Olsen, Michael Sheng

While the majority of our planet is made up of water, our water sources themselves are in danger of becoming scarce. In fact, freshwater makes up only 2.5% of the total volume of the world’s water sources. Therefore, it is not surprising that the issue of water has continuously contributed to the rise of many major issues facing humanity.  Many of the poignant conditions that make for water’s scarcity are the effects of water run-off due to fracking, the pollution of water sources, and water rights abuses surrounding making clean water available to all communities.

In the light of the nationwide socially engaged actions in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the themes in Nor any drop to drink are both timely and timeless. The artists in this exhibition represent several unique perspectives on water and its life altering effects. Through the use of both traditional and non-traditional materials, the resulting work is diverse in its aesthetic and conceptual interpretations of water.

Jacinto Astiazarán’s Crash zoom, stay awhile (2015) is poignant symbolism for the violent separation between water and oil, which is a result of the offshore drilling in Long Beach, California. Emilia Olsen’s paintings of bleached coral are at once whimsical and serious. They offer a glimpse of the future where global warming has prevailed and entire ecosystems are altered forever.

Jay Milder’s mystical paintings of the kabbalistic interpretation of Noah’s Ark, symbolize the ‘unblotting’ of the Rainbow, which was covered up by human transgression. The brilliant colors depict the rainbow after the flood, which was the covenant between G-d and humanity. Pollution of the natural and spiritual world is also the basis for Michael Sheng’s The Source of Life (1 and 2). The juxtaposition of the two paintings employ the body as metaphor show Mother Nature’s plight against humankind.

Vanessa Albury’s intimate photographs take melting glacial ice-caps in the Arctic Circle as subject. The ephemeral essence of these glaciers are memorialized in time through the photographic process. Alli Miller seeks to make the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Her practice involves the making of ‘trash floats’ wherein recycled constructs of post-consumer waste are in an allusive dialog with ocean gyres.

Rifka Milder’s abstract paintings are inspired by the nature of her Manhattan environment. Taking the time to appreciate the subtleties of form and the emotion and energy experienced from her reflections of the world around her. Often times we forget to notice the natural traces of the city, which Milder sublimely hones in on.

In addition to the exhibition, a printmaking and letter writing workshop, open to all ages, will take place on a date to be determined during the run of the show. The workshop will employ graphic techniques that explore each individual’s unique perspective about water. The results will be unique postcards that will be sent to our local representatives. Individuals will personalize their letters to ask their elected officials to support and protect our environment and our rights to clean water.

 

 

No Fear. Yes Art

This editorial was originally published in alt break art fair‘s Responses to Community Building (2016) publication. It has been edited slightly. To read the publication at large click here: alt_break_responses_to_community_building

Life can be boiled down to two key components: fear and love. After the results of arguably the most polarizing election in our nation’s history, many individuals are expressing either one or the other. Shock turned to mourning, then to anger, and now we must turn our emotions into a unified response. It is as important now as ever that love reigns supreme over fear. We should be emboldened by acts of kindness and compassion and rise above hateful actions and discourse so that the hard fought freedoms so many gave their heart, soul, and bodies for is never in vain.

As artists we have a job to do. Throughout history, the arts have been a means to confront and take on difficult issues. Artists have resoundingly responded to devastating wars, fascist regimes, and social injustices. Participating in the arts allows us to communicate our experiences repletely and expressively. We are active participants in shaping the cultural landscape and therefore we need to come out from our studios into the community. We should learn from others, hear their experiences, and help them to tell their story. Now is not a time for self-righteousness or ego, as artists we can facilitate the kind of change that civilization needs.

The day after the election I revisited and was moved again by the words of Toni Morrison who wrote  a poignant essay about why the arts are necessary, especially when despair seems to outweigh hope:

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”

We will survive this period and many other moments when the situation seems bleak. The best we can do is to embrace uncertainty and not give in to the fear. Don’t fear failure, because we are all flawed, however, we can challenge the conditions of humanity and push the limits of our creativity to un-chartered territories. My colleagues (Audra Lambert, Kimi Kitada) and I started the alt break art fair because we saw artists as great advocates for change. Through partnering with non-profit organizations that work tirelessly to help those in need, we hope to raise both an awareness and participation in humanitarian efforts amongst the art community and the community at large.

As an artist, curator, and arts educator, I will do my part to impart hope, strength, and knowledge wherever I can. I hope to see you on the frontlines in our community.

Benny Andrews’ Bicentennial Human

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Benny Andrews, Circle, 1973, oil on twelve linen canvases with painted fabric and mixed media collage, 120 x 288 inches. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

The Michael Rosenfeld Gallery presents a seminal series of collages and drawings from Benny Andrews’ Bicentennial Series (1970-1976). The series’ six thematic groups that are the basis for this exhibition include the Symbol Series, Trash Series, Circle Series, Sexism Series, and Utopia Series. Within these themes, Andrews reflected on his experience as an African American in the post-civil rights era and during the two hundred year anniversary of the United States of America. At the time series was conceived, it was evident that African Americans had made innumerous significant cultural contributions both locally and nationally, yet their role in shaping American history had been vaguely reported and celebrated. Additionally, the national dialogue surrounding the celebratory attitude of the bicentennial seemed naive and dishonest in light of the social and economic conditions across the country.

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Broken Grey Wires

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Lizz Brady. Installation view during alt_break art fair 2016 at The Fountain House Gallery. 

The result of the artist making art is the release of that work from the artist to the viewer. Art has the means to be cathartic by releasing the artist’s innermost thoughts and sharing them with the outside world. Once the artwork is released, it is the role of the viewer to make connections from the fragmented pieces that the artist released. Studies have suggested that there is viable evidence for a neurological relationship between visual creativity and language.

Lizz Brady, an artist based in the United Kingdom explores various themes relating to mental health and mindfulness, which yearn to harmonize the expressive and psychological artistic process with the subjective experience of the viewer.

Brady is the founder of Broken Grey Wires (BGW), an art collective that seeks to create a comfortable and welcoming space for creative minds to engage in topics that concern mental health and psychology. Below Lizz Brady and I discuss the benefits of art within the areas of psychology and mental health.

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Suggested Reading: Spring Ahead Edition

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– “a lot of curation today leads to the homogenization of emerging cultures — emerging from the perspective of the West — instead of forming collaborative exchanges with people that fall outside the dominant art world.” Art-world darling and sometimes provocateur Oscar Murrillo says that flushing his passport down the toilet mid-flight to Australia wasn’t done in protest. via New York Times

– Two major museum surveys organized by the Centre Pompidou and Sharjah Biennale feature the art of the Egyptian Surrealist Movement. Unfortunately, Egypt’s Ministry of Culture has rejected this art historical movement. via The Cairo Review

– Art Historian, Harriet F. Senie published a new book titled Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11 (Oxford University Press), which examines the way we memorialize contemporary tragic events. Some of the main issues Senie addresses is how to define the new memorial paradigm that conflates memorials and cemeteries; consider the practice of heroicizing victims; point out what is lost when any mention of the perpetrators is eliminated; and emphasize problematic aspects of the memorial process. Senie will give a talk at Pen & Brush on Tuesday, April 19th (don’t forget to vote in the NY primaries!). Her talk will focus on two specific events, which she covers in her book, The Oklahoma City Bombing and Columbine. via Pen & Brush

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