Yesterday I repainted the walls at Load of Fun, after I touch up a couple of spots today and return a couple more of the pieces to the artists What's Your War? in physical form will be complete. Today I also finish writing about the artists.

Christina Ralls' piece is a call to action. A statement against fear and the negative effects it has on our lives and relationships. "Fear stops us.  It prevents us from communicating with each other. It scares us into being stagnant and not taking action. Fear distances us and devastates our communities. It is a recurring impetus for warfare, violence, and isolation. [...] We must take risks to build relationships, cultivate ideas, and create. I challenge you to be brave, overcome fear, and learn to live and embrace every action and reaction. I declare war on fear." I have known Christina since moving to Baltimore in 2007. We were in grad school together, taught together, have grown close as friends and colleagues. These shared experiences have informed much of what we both do. I have seen Christina grow and change in the years that I have known her and I am glad she created a piece for this show. Her family is from Baltimore, although Christina grew up on the Eastern Shore, but the city and the events that have happened in its boundaries (including the riots of '68) had a huge effect on her family and has shaped her and her work. Her piece is a mixed-media brain, collaged on top of a map of Baltimore, with depictions of rowhouses, bridges, train tracks, and other urban refuse catching the viewer with fiery reds and oranges. Surrounding the painting are speech bubbles depicting hands shaking, people making eye contact, a smile, a heart and, "Hello, how are you?" Christina sees the fear that shapes Baltimore City and the people within it and is working personally and professionally to alter the state of fear that so often controls urban environments. She reminds me that we determine what other's choices leave us and that even though cities are divided and fear perpetuated between the people that live there, we can choose not to act on this fear, but say hello, open our hearts and build relationships.

Across from Christina's piece was an installation by Aïdah Aliyah Rasheed. Rasheed's war is on herself. Her installation is composed of a series of 20 small photographs, a shelf with a plant and a folded flag. At first consideration of Aïdah's war, one might be tempted to think that she is set on destroying herself, but this is not what her piece does at all. I had to look up the definition of war to see if what I think Rasheed meant is in the word's standard definition and "a sustained effort to deal with or end a particular unpleasant or undesirable situation or condition" is actually the exact meaning I was hoping to find. The images in the installation are small prints, but also details of objects, close-ups of Aïdah's face, text, textures, flowers, fruit, the artist washing her hair, hands, and feet. Rasheed is examining herself, she is really looking at where she is, what she is, her thoughts and actions. Her war is more on habits, unhealthy things, those things that cause us stress and that prevent us from acting on our true nature. The piece also deals with her identity as a Muslim woman and the ritual cleansing the religion is composed of. In the artists own words, "I am openly aligning with one side of the battlefield confronting myself with the unnatural strife from societal normalcy. This war has caused deceitful unconscious destruction of myself, both internal and external. I am currently in the process of cleansing self by affirming my credence so that I may purify my heart and return to my natural state."

Ronny Quevedo's piece New Port is made of aluminum foil, tissue paper, contact paper, and screen printing. Quevedo declares war on "hierarchies - the high and low, the good and bad, the have and have nots." The graphic nature of the piece is extremely attractive, the repeat of the text "New Port" on the three different types of material causes one to consider why we need to distinguish value of one thing over another.  Why can't things be different and equal? Tissue paper, aluminum foil and contact paper are all different, but beautiful textures in the piece. The piñata-like feel of the tissue paper give a celebratory air to all of these different constituencies. We must remember that value is created by society, but that the beauty in difference is something that cannot be overlooked or ignored if one wants to live a full life.

Mildred Beltre's work, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (#4) is ink and graphite on paper, composed of many acorn like shapes in red and black. Beltre declares war on, "the social isolation fostered by this capitalist society. [She] fight[s] to create relationships based on mutual care and an understanding of not just [her] needs but those of others as well." The shapes in her piece are connected and the way they are placed on the page creates a movement throughout that makes one think of the way our lives run into and connect with each other's. When viewing the work with a group of Baltimore City youth, they had so much to say about it. Within the piece they saw shapes, letters, and recognizable images. I saw the connections Beltre speaks of in her statement created by the work. The young people kept thinking of more things, bouncing ideas off of what their peers said and the energy of the conversation mirrored that of the objects in the composition.

Shawn Mathis Gooden came to Baltimore to install her piece. I worked with Shawn years ago at the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York. I was so glad to reconnect with her for this exhibition because she is a beautiful person and makes beautiful work. The piece, We No Sooner... is mixed media. A wooden board with a figure, hands over her face and text that reads, "no sooner do we think we have assembled a comfortable life than [sic] we find a piece of ouselves that has no place to fit." is hung above text created with thread and the final word painted directly onto the wall, "War on judgement." Mathis Gooden says, " I find in life no matter who you are, what you do and look like, there will be always be preconceived notions thrust upon you before you are able to prove yourself otherwise. This includes judgment that comes after one is in a state of vulnerability and shares something confided or one who lives throughout life without apologies. There are so many factors in one’s life that are controlled by the media and other outside forces of what "their" perception of correct, good, cool and accepted should be. Unfortunately, in many instances those outside forces are not true and have no idea what it is to walk in someone else's shoes, which leads those forces and others to judge." 

We all want to be free and whether we find ourselves hampered in this quest by judgement, hierarchies, ourselves, ignorance or the many other things that the artists in this show declared war on, it is in the way we wage our wars that determine how free we end up finding ourselves. I thank all the artists that participated for their fights, for their creativity, for their wonderful personalities and artwork. I thank Load of Fun for their generosity and such a great first experience in putting together a show. I am excited to curate my next show, The Process of Peace because I think that it is often in our creative endeavors that we begin to see the path to freedom and peace.