As co-curator I am probably biased in favor of the artists that are in a show that I curated, but I am so impressed by the talent, creativity, dedication, and beauty of the artists that came together in What's Your War? that I cannot help but comment on how blessed I have been to work with these people and the objects they create.

I put a call to artists out before co-curator Oasa DuVerney and I even knew where the show was going to be held. The first submission we received from Freya Powell blew me away.  A vinyl text piece that reads, "A time comes when silence is betrayal."  I had initially imaged the show would be all banners or signs that stated directly, "I declare war on...", but after receiving this first piece I was glad I had not put those restrictions on the participating artists. Powell’s piece referenced a speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr., which seemed so fitting for a show in Baltimore, a city where the effects of slavery, segregation, a history built on prejudice, and a society’s structure that uphold this history are all still very visible in the streets.  The text piece has a simplicity and strength that so impresses me. It looks beautiful on the wall with several other artists’ pieces I will come to later. The piece quietly reminds us just how violent and destructive silence can be and I thank Freya for this reminder. We cannot just stand and watch if we really want things to change, we have to take the risk to speak.

Directly under Freya’s text is a painting by Frank Justich.  Frank is actually Oasa’s cousin and his painting her piece.  He passed away earlier this year and so Oasa declares war on his mortality.  It is a figure painting of a strong, beautiful, black woman sitting in profile. The careful handling of the paint, the colors chosen, all speak of a talented, dedicated artist. A truth and beauty are held in the paints that I have not seen recently in a painting. I thank Oasa for sharing her cousin’s work with us, it has gotten many positive responses from people that see the show. In fact, it seems to draw people near it, folks that come into the space just to pass through to go to their studios upstairs or to the back performance space often stop to look at this painting or even back track to it. I also have to thank Oasa for sharing her personal tragedy and feel that she has found a way to wage war on her cousin’s death, to ensure that he will live on through his work and memory and the love of those who knew him and now through the love that grows in those who didn’t, but have met him through his painting.

Following the work clockwise through the gallery, Allison Malinsky’s piece Gunfight comes next. I have known Allison for years and what always strikes me about her work is how closely it resembles herself. The energy in her paintings and drawings are so similar to the energy she has as a person makes being near to her pieces like being near to her. That said she is one of the most incredible people I know and so hence her work is some of the most incredible I have seen. The piece in the show is long black and grey, a murky yet crisp depiction of shapes in movement back and forth across the page.  It is part of her Bond series. She writes about adventure, seduction, and exotic places in her statement. One cannot help but read a gender war into the image, men and women in conflict, women in conflict with the roles they have been assigned in popular culture, people in conflict with their fantasies and realities, the two never really merging.  Allison states that she fights for her “love of freedom and life’s opportunities.” How true this is of us all.

Chritine Peterson is our one artist from Tennessee. I did not know her prior to the show, but it turns out that she grew up with another one of the artists that currently resides in Baltimore. Hers was another piece that when I received the proposal I was glad that I had not put arbitrary restrictions on the participants. Peterson created a grid of 72 5”x7” cards that each have a paint chip on one side and the color of the paint (all shades of white) in vinyl text on the other. Her war is on assumptions, on the fact that we assume that people understand what we mean when we say certain things. That our idea of white and off-white is the same as another’s even when there are myriad colors that are actually described by those terms. Peterson challenges the viewer to reassess their definition of the term “white” and all that is encompassed by it. As a white woman in a segregated city I see a commentary on race happening in the piece. I am going to purchase two of the cards in order to create a self-portrait with at least two “whites” that I feel describe me. I think that often in discussions of race, being white becomes something that people want to rid themselves of or end up being angry at the privilege that comes with it. I think we have to remember that paired with all the ugliness of what has been done throughout history to maintain white power, there are also very beautiful things that are white, things that must be defined and genuinely expressed so that we can break apart the dominating definition of “white” into all of the beautiful shades and colors that being off, egg-shell, cream, etc. really is.

Adam Thorman is at war with the obvious. And I think this somehow connects to the discussion above because I think that Adam often photographs the obvious, but the obvious that has been overlooked so is not really obvious at all. Similar to the way Christine’s piece points out all of the different shades in white, Adam’s photographs capture beauty in landscape, lost objects, and dead birds. He is redefining broad powerful definitions of beauty with a focus on quiet, seemingly small moments and things. I have also known Adam for a long while, we went to photo school together in New York. He is a close friend and a wonderful photographer. The three images in the show are beautiful. A canyon with a small amount of water, an abandoned work glove, and mist. The moments captured in these three images depict a quietness, solitude, and peace that is the foundation of life, but which often gets lost in the everyday struggle to maintain our modern pace. What we need to find peace is obvious, but we often cannot see it. Adam fights his war by making it possible for us to see what can too easily be overlooked.

Last on this first wall of the show is a digital painting by Colin Campbell. Colin was one of the last artists to submit to and be accepted to the show and his piece actually leads into the next show I will curate, The Process of Peace. Colin is at war “with not letting go” (which I think could just as easily be “at peace with letting go”). His image is a man floating to the bottom of the sea, shoes and hat being carried away by the current, jellyfish coming to meet him. I think many would assume the man is drowning, but Colin states, “For me, I identify moments of release and escape most strongly with swimming in the ocean. The pinnacle of letting go, then, would be completely drifting away in the currents and letting the tides take over. That’s what is happening to the individual in this piece. He’s not dying; he’s letting himself be pulled along by more natural forces.” Allowing ourselves more flexibility in what we do and how we respond to the world is so important. I am often struck by the peaceful attentiveness and joy of Colin as a person and I see this also mirrored in his work. It is an awareness of the need to balance a direction and path with changes in wind, tide, and current that is expressed in this work. When one achieves this, there is a grace that one is able to attain that makes moving through life something done with ease. When I first proposed the project to Colin his initial response was a war on not living in the ocean. There is still a remainder of the humor in this response in his final piece and it is finding this humor that allows one to let go.

I seem already to have overwritten for a blog entry so The Artists of What’s Your War? will have to be continued in a post tomorrow.  And if you have not yet seen the show, it is still up at Load of Fun, contact me!