VCU’s GSWS Art Show Pushes Guests Out of Their Comfort Zone
Last Thursday, April 24, was a night of thought-provoking artwork, button-pushing conversation, and stepping-out-of-your-comfort-
The event featured a panel discussion led by Ha Tran, Brooke Inman, Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Angelica de Jesus and Celina Williams among other phenomenal minds. Topics included how identity and place influenced their artistic practices and activism, the importance of print zines, the prison-industrial complex, feminism and the trans community, self-esteem, empowerment, and other issues.
In particular, the panelists discussed the issue of “preaching to the choir” as a recurring criticism of many feminist activists. This notion finds fault with feminist and queer events held with other similar-minded people because their messages ultimately fall upon well-versed LGBTQ ears. Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, director of A Streetcar Named Desire now playing at the Firehouse Theatre, addressed the criticism with a brief description of her own work as an artist and activist. Instead of worrying about preaching to the choir, the importance of the work in activism lies in “getting the choir to sing,” she said.
If we are indeed preaching to the choir, then, she argues, why haven’t we seen more action?
Jennifer Guillen / Untitled / digital print / 2014
The artwork in the show is also diverse and exciting. Many artists from an array of departments at VCU and from the outside community submitted pieces that will be up through the Summer.
Crenshaw House is unique in that the space acts as a house, an office space for the department, and a gallery venue. The pieces are installed in such a way that responds to the space and creates a specific environment for each piece.
The Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies department puts on Art Shows every semester, which is how Emma Barnes first got involved. “After seeing the range of work and amount of people involved, I wanted to be a part of the planning process. I liked how accessible it was. It disrupted hierarchies and included various forms of making and expression that are not always considered or accepted, like poetry and zines!” said Barnes, “People were unafraid to create discussion around issues of identity such as race, class, and gender. It was really powerful to see it all in one place. I wanted to be a part of that conversation.”
This semester, the focus was on identity and place. “The Spring Art Show examined how categories of identity and concepts of place are produced in various art forms, from photography to performance to painting,” said Dennis Williams, “It expands on nuances, dominant categories, and binaries of identity while also examining concepts of place—specifically the idea of belonging or not belonging in either a conceptual or geographical space.”
The GSWS Spring Art Show was largely organized by Safiya Bridgewater, Emma Barnes, and Dennis Williams. Earlier in the semester before the Art Show, the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies department sent out a call for entries. The group behind it all is unofficially called Art Mafia.
“There is plenty cross-over with students and faculty who are both in the arts and in GSWS. But being an artist or artsy is not a requirement to be in the Art Mafia,” said Safiya Bridgewater, “We brainstorm ideas and concepts of an event. And from there we make it happen—we plan it out step by step. Usually, interest in the project grows and friends of folks planning the event show up to help too.”
Michael Todd / Color By Numbers / interactive installation / 2014
The preparation for the show was extremely collaborative. “We invited artists who’ve been in the show before and folks who’ve helped plan the show, and also the entire GSWS student body, alumni, and anyone who follows us on social media,” said Bridgewater, “The preparation for this show, from conceptualizing to jurying to figuring out which pieces go where, was a very collaborative process.”
This was the first time a panel discussion was integrated within the show. “It was interesting to be in an academic and artistic space outside of the classroom where performances were taking place—one by Gabby Namm and another by Tara German—at the same time we were talking about the performances of our lives,” said Barnes.
Getting involved in the GSWS department has influenced the artists in the show. Namely, Barnes said her involvement has had a huge impact on her work. “Several of my classes, professors, and texts have generated concepts and directions for me. We’ve talked about things like how lumping together race or gender or class can be homogenizing,” said Barnes, “All of this can be difficult to unpack and has many complex layers, especially when making work within an academic setting; however, art provides the opportunity and the space to expand and disrupt these narratives—it can allow individuals to create their own narrative.”
The show will be up through the Spring and Summer semesters at Crenshaw House, 919 West Franklin Street. Everyone is welcome to come by Crenshaw House to see the work. The building is currently not handicap accessible, and the department is working to expand the show beyond the building in the future. Suggestions? Contact email@example.com
“My hope is that the work continues to confront issues of place and performance of self,” said Barnes, “Ultimately, I hope that everyone had fun!”
Top image: Rachel Ludwig / Being Here and Now / digital prints of film stills / 2014
I’m Lindsay Hawk. I am currently studying Sculpture + Extended Media at VCU, along with Biology and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. I enjoy making art about social issues, nudity, and sexuality. If I’m not in the studio, I’m probably exploring the outdoors, visiting art openings, talking to strangers, or chowing down on some local RVA cuisine. Find more of my work at www.lindsayhawk.com
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