To continue writing on the amazing artists that participated in What’s Your War? I will begin with Sabrina Saneaux. Her painting quickly became a kind of showpiece in the gallery. It is the largest piece in the show, but that is not the only reason it captures one’s attention on entering the space. There is something in the complexity of the work, the way that Saneaux layers her figures, their expressions, and the depth of the painting that draw one into it. At the same time so much of what is depicted is right there on the surface, daring the viewer to confront it. The relationships of the figures to each other in the painting and to the viewer are active, approaching the energy and feeling of relationships in life. The painting is alive in the way that all of the components interact and at one point during the opening someone pointed out that because of the ceiling fans circulating air in the space, the canvas was moving, in and out, as if it was breathing. Saneaux’s war is on cultural imperialism and as one looks into her painting one gets the uncomfortable feeling of being the imperialist. The painting turns on its head images of children and men with guns attacking the United States and its culture that are portrayed in the media. Instead one sees people angry at the destruction of their own countries and cultures and picking up arms to defend themselves. It is the balance needed to a media that portrays the U.S.’s imperial wars as those that protect democracy and “freedom”. How can we protect freedom by the destruction of other people’s choices? Thanks Sabrina for a painting that confronts our complicity and our county’s arrogance.

From Sabrina’s painting we move on to one of the smallest works in the show, although maybe the most far reaching. Laura Cohen’s Cheers! Let's Declare War on Dishonest Interaction is a batch of home brewed beer with 50 different labels, each with a prompt printed on it that will instruct a person on how to have more honest interactions. Cohen distributed her beer at the opening with the stipulation that whatever prompt you received on your beer you would follow.  I am tempted to cut and paste all 50 here because it is an incredible list, but due to space restrictions my favorites will have to suffice:

1. make eye contact

4. put your phone away

7. admit when you are wrong

20. sugar coating is for suckers

27. figure out your truth and tell it

35. be aware of your issues

46. trust

48. be present

50. recognize power dynamics

This list of favorites seems arbitrary (it is a damn good list - we will be posting the entire show online so you can view it in its entirety soon). I love this piece. It is so important to remember that being vulnerable and honest is hard, but that we need to do it for any kind of deep and lasting relationship. Especially, I think for people of our generation who are in their 20’s and 30’s and may spend a little too much time at the bar trying to meet people. Cohen’s piece reminds us that even though alcohol consumption sometimes makes it easier to talk to people, it doesn’t always mean we are creating a meaningful connection. Laura and I are friends and colleagues. We were in the same Americorps program when we met, both work in community and now she is my boss, as well as one of my dearest friends. This multi-faceted relationship only works because of our communication, the fact that we are honest with each other, and that as often as possible we attempt to forge deep and meaningful connections through honest interaction.

Sa’dia Rehman’s piece, No One Will Know is also a small work, but one that is deep. Rehman’s work is inspired by her Pakistani community and confronts traditions founded in religion, culture, and social anxieties. The piece for this show is a new work and I was extremely excited when I received her proposal because of the beauty in the work samples she submitted and the fact that the she was creating a new piece specific for the show. Rehman states, “While I equally analyze social and cultural customs of my family and religion, I trace back to my childhood to discover violence of the body. […] I declare war on issues within a family structure that are hidden and are considered taboo to vocalize, specifically sexual violence.” The work is a two-part suspended piece made of graphite, watercolor, gouache, ink and gold leaf on paper.  The upper most part of the work is a dazzling array of blue and turquoise flashes, with a red shape rising out of the chaos. The red shape is reminiscent of both a body and a mushroom cloud, the color reminiscent of blood. It flows and splatters down the rest of the page and into the next. One has a sense of war, of the hurt and pain caused by it. A hint of blood running down a body, but not passively like a wound that is left open and runs, but rather actively as if the blood is fighting to break free of it’s own existence. The movement in this piece is incredible as are all the details and layers within the color Rehman places on the page. It is a small work, hung on a narrow wall, but powerful and speaks volumes about inflicted pain and our fight against it.

Around the corner are three collages by Juan Hinojosa. Since so much of this blog has been both about the artists and the art I will start by saying that I had not known Juan prior to the show, but am glad to have gotten to know him because of it. He is a joy to work with, professional in the very best way, prompt, and communicative. He came down to Baltimore from New York for the opening and it was great to meet him. His work is very much like himself, vibrant and full of life. He collages items left over from purchases and advertising creating incredible compositions in which Lady Gaga, yogurt tops, decks of cards and more take the shape of rockets or comets or something falling out of the sky. I took a group of Baltimore City youth on a tour of the show and when looking at Hinojosa’s work, their first impulse was to write it off as something abstract, but as they looked closer, they saw objects and images within the collage that they recognized and associated with and suddenly their perplexity became connection. I love it when art is able to do this.  Hinojosa declares war on consumerism. In his words, “It's the reason behind all my troubles.  Our nation’s obsession (that I am clearly guilty of too) is the explanation why a lot of young Americans are in huge amounts of unreasonable dept.  Using specific images and trash that I have collected, I am declaring war on consumerism.  As my own debt grew, I collect and keep clothing tags, receipts, and packaging that lead me down the rabbit hole of dept. The iconic images and shapes are placed together to form a monster that must be killed.  I, like most young Americans are fighting the same monster that is called Consumerism.” Identifying where we are and what things have gotten us to this place is what Juan does in his collages, but through that process he is able to make something beautiful and something that creates a connection between all of us who are born into a capitalist society. We can wish to change things and work toward this change, but we must begin where we are. Juan does such a seamless job of this, connecting our obsessions with shopping to the consequence of debt and the importance of remembering that even though we can purchase just about anything we want, humans are creative and must also create something themselves in order to be fulfilled. He has found a way to create despite the ability to buy.

Color has ended up playing an important part in this exhibition. I guess it is always a key component of art. Jay Gaskill’s Sun the Secret Prince adds a necessary color to the images in the gallery, the yellow painting with swirls of white and turquoise are simple and beautiful and make me smile. Oasa specifically curated this piece into the show and I am glad. It is a needed space to breathe in a show that does contain much content and pieces that are visually involved. Gaskill declares war on complexity and it is perfectly waged by his painting. It gives the viewer a pleasant reverie to their own wars, it reminds us that beauty and peace have their place and are necessary to take care and to live a full life. Gaskill states, “Modern life is full of so many distractions that it is easy for people to lose sight of themselves. I created this painting with the aim of producing a simple, beautiful image for people, which can create a moment for the viewer to breathe, exhale, and ponder.” Coming from a conceptual background I sometimes forget this role of art and I thank Jay for reminding me because even as I sit here and write I need a break, need to stop, to see a color as beautiful as sunlight, shapes that are pleasant on the eyes and a composition that even in memory makes me smile.

The last artist I will write about today is E. McCarson. His piece, War is the Answer is a reminder of the choices that we have for creation and destruction and that choosing between the two is not always easy or obvious. Non-violence as an ideal is a nice thought, but when faced with killing or being killed who knows what we will do? The collage McCarson creates depicts “animals, fungi, and soil attacking humans and their intrusive technology.” It is based in the writings of Derrick Jensen. McCarson is making the point that since the environment is being violently destroyed nature should wage war on civilization in self-defense, violence being a means of protection. If a war is waged already, what happens to the side that does not fight back? They are obliterated. At a time when wars are ongoing, when water is being polluted to the point that it is undrinkable, when people are being oppressed, when the effects of these wars are reflected in diseases in our bodies do any of us have a choice but to fight? It is an interesting question, especially in a world where so much that happens is at the profit of few and the cost of many. Do we acknowledge our choices? Do we see the possibility of fighting back? Or do we use the excuse of non-violence to allow violent things to happen? These questions do not have easy answers and maybe just lead to more questions. Either way they are important to ask, to consider what our roles are and what they could be.

More artists tomorrow. Again, contact me if you would like to see the show!