A Visual America: Inside and Out

Laura Brent - "Untitled (Mother at the Fridge) 2007"

“The American Dream is a personal institution, one that suffers in our disconnected, wired world, with its fast-paced modernity.”—Laura Brent

As I walked around Woman Made Gallery’s two shows this month (“The American Dream: A Juxtaposition” and “Outside America”), I felt humbled that so many artists are willing to share their personal visions of America and what it means to be an American. Some focus on depicting the idealized American dream, others on the more painful and perhaps distorted reality of American private life, and some examine the effects on developing nations that are expected to provide cheap goods necessary to complete the American dream.

Shannon Cannings – “Bubblicious”

I was most affected by Shannon Cannon’s painting “Bubblicious.” At fist glance, the painting of a pink toy gun seems to be little more than a bit of pink pop, a bit of shallow fun. Upon closer examination, however, the piece demands a deeper level of interpretation. The work makes many comments about the American dream: its disposable nature, its longstanding love affair with firearms, and, most obviously, the omnipresence of promotion and advertisement. The pink plastic gun, after all, casts a lurking shadow beneath.

“For some time I have been interested in Americana, consumerism, and the plastic veneer that we spread around us and call comfort.”—Shannon Cannon, “Bubblicious”

In the lower level of WMG, I viewed many images of life outside of America, depicting everything from women embroidering in rural India (photography by Barbara Houghton) to a thoughtful reflection on the time consuming preparation of Korean herbal medicine (installation by Sun Choi). Many of the pieces address how the quality of life in developing nations is altered by American industry, media, and tourism. In some instances, artists of non-American nationality express a belief about American life or social norms.

Jan Brown Checco - "Left-Handed Exchange"

I found “Left-Handed Exchange” by Jan Brown Checco particularly engaging. This piece (almost handicraft in nature, a work of embroidery Grandma might have made), contains the stitched phrase “You Must Not Give Them Anything. It Harms More Than It Will Help.” The expression is surrounded by pencils, small candies, and silver coins. In reading the placard next to the piece, I learned that during a visit to Marrakesh, North Africa, the artist was discouraged by her guide from giving local children the small gifts (candies, coins) for which they asked. I was moved by the artist’s internal conflict to deny such small and seemingly harmless requests as so vividly depicted in the piece.

“We see our current and historical shadows and dreams disembodied, such is the plight of immigrant, exile, and traveler.”—Black Forest Project  (Lisa Siders, Denise Burge, Terry Featherstone, Jen Ustick), “Black Forest Project: Bad Wildbad”

Leaving the gallery, walking west on Milwaukee Avenue, and descending the reliable steps of the blue line, these visual images of America, both celebratory and haunting, permeate my mind. I encourage each reader of this blog to attend. Both “The American Dream: A Juxtaposition” and “Outside America” are on display until February 24, 2011.

-Rachel M. Brim, Gallery Intern

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