potbelly pin-ups by Shoshanna Weinberger: an Intern’s Response

As an Art History and Gender & Sexuality Studies double major, my internship at Woman Made Gallery has been an extremely valuable learning experience. The current solo show by Shoshanna Weinberger “potbelly pin-ups: out of many one,” proved highly relevant to one of my art history courses, Black Visual Cultures: Race and Representation, and became the basis for this video, my final project for the class.

After the opening of Shoshanna Weinberger’s exhibition, I had the opportunity to interview her. She also sent articles about her work for me to reference, one of which, “Attack of the Boogeywoman: Visualizing Black Women’s Grotesquerie in Afrofuturism” by Jared Richardson, became my jumping off point for this video. I quickly became interested in comparing the work of Wangechi Mutu with Shoshanna Weinberger in their use of the visual rhetoric of the grotesque to tackle issues of the historical and contemporary representation of the black female body as other.

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Weinberger and friend at opening of potbelly pin-ups at Woman Made Gallery

 

-Why did you develop this body of work for your exhibition at Woman Made Gallery?

SW: 

The work in Potbelly Pin-Ups: Out of Many One stems from an ongoing body of work that I have been exploring for several years. The imagery explores my criticism of what popular culture defines feminine beauty to be.  I then skew and distort, creating mutations of beauty. For this show, I want to personalize my history by using the creed of my native Jamaica Out of Many One within the title to suggest myself “out of many one” to connect the idea that mutations are unique (one) from a generation. These single mutations I construct allude to the popular pin-up and its history to single out feminine beauty however in my case decidedly ugly. I purposely frame each pin-up inside the broader alluding to the pin-up poster size 30 x 22 or 30 x 26.  And the large scale works referring to billboard size.

-What does it mean to show this particular work in a feminist art gallery?

SW: 

Having my first Chicago solo show at WMG is an honor and it’s ideology is fitting within the context of my work.  I hope the show will receive exposure to the WMG community opening a dialogue and finding connections within the greater Chicago-art community as well.

Not sure if you know, but it was a few year after I graduated from SAIC ’95 that I applied to an exhibition open call at Woman Made Gallery (maybe 1998?) I did not get into the show.  However instead of absorbing the rejection as a blow to my artistic practice and ego, it only fueled and inspired me to further my career as an artist. Creating work for that show extended into building a larger body of work and portfolio, which I then applied to graduate school with. I was accepted into the Yale School of Art, Yale University, Masters of Fine Arts Painting/Printmaking program MFA ’03 and have to thanks WMG for inspiring me.  And make having this solo show even more significant to me.

-We are totally moved and impressed by the seemingly impossible and very successful co-existence of humor and violence in your work. What is the source of these two elements, and how are they in conversation with one another?

SW:

I enjoy my titles. They stem from memories, pop-culture whether from music, classic or film noir. Along with historical references, natural things, and even beauty products. I enjoy marrying disparate things and the titles evoke some humor and/or at times can be slightly political and subversive.

-At the opening, we talked about your grandmothers, one Jamaican and one Jewish, and their influence on you and your work. Can you talk about how family criticism and support influence your work? Furthermore, how your heritage and ethnically diverse upbringing influence you?

SW: 

Being ethnically diverse allowed me to see that there really is no difference other than people worshipping differently thus my discussion about my two grandmothers being the same. I have a problem with checking the “other” box in the “race” catagory.  I usually write in “Human Race” I dislike that our culture needs to organize and catalogue people for statistics… I am a product of love not race or religion.

However because of society’s construction, I have often reference W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Double Consciousness.” I have in other drawing series used the jazz song “strangefruit” to define myself as peripheral, examining how others perceive and define me, as I am considered “exotic” in America; and not “Jamaican-enough” in Kingston.  This experience of existing in two-different cultures, has allowed me understand the complex facets of beauty from both geographical perspectivas.  Returning to titles for a moment… the jazz song title Strangefruit seems to sum up this idea complexity in abstraction.  I have incorporated the title of famous protest song Strange Fruit written by Jewish-school teacher Abel Meeropol and made famous by singer Billie Holiday. Adapting the song-title Strange Fruit as a defining symbol for myself: the product of a Jewish man and Caribbean woman. The Jewish man “seeded or wrote” the poem and an African-American (in my case Caribbean-Black) woman who gave “birth or sung” – me the poem.  Thus the title has a personal reference through cultural reference.

Lucky, that both families have supported my artistic career, and had a mother who was an artist herself. My mother Marlene Lewis went back to get her MFA in the 90s and at one point we were both in the 2006 and 2008 Jamaican Biennials separately presenting our work there. In 2010, my mother lost for 12 year battle with breast cancer however heartfelt she cannot be with me to share these experiences; she is with me in spirit everyday.

Today, my family is very excited for my successes and I believe in not having expectations and living up to anyone’s standards but my own. Glad to have had the freedom to be myself and not have a complex about who I am and where I fit in.

-You also talk about the distortions of beauty in the media, can you talk about how that personally affects you and your work?

SW:  

I am trying to present an exaggeration of aesthetics that result in imagery depicting excess, malformed and decapitated bodies, mutations of multiple-mouths, breasts and buttocks. I am displaying only the parts that are desired: lips, legs, ass, breasts and hair.  I am reducing to the most sexualized and then repeating it removing everything else and leaving parts.  I consider what popular culture defines as feminine beauty to be is skewed and distorted. Making connections with the awkwardness as a female growing-up, trying to define myself within a context of regional, social, and cultural beauty. Reflecting on my personal issue the media and Hollywood. I am exploring that the social norms are abnormal. Excessive plastic surgery and body dimorphic are just one of many avenues that I explore.  My drawings relate to all women as each of us see magazines and deal with the global media culture of beauty that in many ways comes at us from various avenues. I believe that it a part of our obsession that extends beyond beauty but cultural ideology.

-I am very interested in your focus on the figure of the Hottentots Venus and how that trope extends to modern day figures. How do you see the image of the “Hottentot” functioning in your work?

SW:

I believe my drawings touch on a boarder cultural range of body portraiture. Although there is a vast history of Western culture creating myths based on difference and fear of femininity as viewed within a male-culture. My drawings are a body of work that explore contemporary connections stemming from the myth of ‘otherness doing otherness things’ as well as my addressing/defining cultural stereotypes, and historical references of subjugated women as modern-day Hottentots alluding to Sarrtjie Baartman, Josephine Baker and branching out to contemporaries, from Jennifer Lopez, Snookie to the infantile Honey-Boo Boo. Recreating a visual psychology in the drawings is captured in the beauty distortion found in prepubescent pageant toddlers, teenage girls, strip-club dancers, West-Indian Dancehall performers, pop-culture icons, and even self-portraits.  It is wonderful to have women of all back-ground express that they relate to a pose or moment in my work.

-Your work has been compared to that of Wangechi Mutu and Kara Walker regarding its representation and distortion of the black female body. How do you see your work interacting with such themes?

SW: 

It is nice to be aligned with both artists.  Each of us make work in context to individual perceptions of cultural history. Mutu, Walker and I each have our own personal visual language and unique mark making that explores similar themes on body, hair, identity and culture.

Kara Walker’s focus has been the southern-African-American diasporia slightly different from me Caribbean-American persona however we both use the silhouette. My use of silhouettes is to create an anonymous figure to show my deformed bodies along with presenting a solid (at times) clean form which Walker presents in a different more political theme.

I consider myself a visual anthropologist examining female archetypes. Installing combinations of drawings, I create a collection of images on paper that present as one work. Both Mutu and Walker use drawing differently.  I lean towards a modernist style with wall installations are displayed in a grid.

Mutu has play with material and is more surreal in her constructions. Her collage-work is from found media, like her, I play with drawing styles to create an exquisite corpse but I make my own collage papers.

I hope to have the same exposure that both Wangechi Mutu and Kara Walker have now.

-When we spoke you talked about how you know each piece specifically according to their names. Can you talk a little bit about the ways you name your pieces? What is the significance of naming your works so specifically? What does wordplay and the use of cliches and slang add to your work?

SW: My titles stem from pop-culture of my generation; humour; film noir; the harlem renaissance; personal sound bites; music titles; nods to art heroes; and object found in nature.  My drawings are specimens.

In 32AAA the image of a strong Afro-styled figure stands with zebra bra, the title 32AAA refers to my late mother’s bra size.  Or in the title Crooked Teeth, when I placed the collage paper red lips down on the drawing, I married the title to the work as it seemed fitting right then and there.  She Wears It Well, is one my large scale drawings that “wears”  my Love Lost Love Found graffiti is one of the darker images with a sarcastic tone.  Early Bloomer, refers to myself awkward early pre-pubescence trying fit-in with my body changing. Smoker, large scale black ground work the lips look like the end of a cigarette and the act of drawing up a cigarette has an oral, orphus and sexual relationship. Surprise, wearing a strap on or maybe its a portrait of a middle sex?

Honey Boo calls up as it related to our society’s obsession with people who are famous for not being famous or doing anything special.  Reality TV and the culture started with the talk-shows in the 80s people spilling their souls out to us and our culture being interested in it.  Honey Boo is my criticism of just he show where a 7 year old is entered into beauty contests, made-up to look like a woman and the distortion that this is normal seems like Brain-washing young people into what beauty is to be.

-All your works in this show were done in acrylic on paper, why do you use painting as opposed to other mediums?

SW: The drawings are not all in acrylic on paper only one work has acrylic the rest are made using gouache and/or ink, oil pastels, pencil and collage.  Each can have one or all of these combinations.  The large scale drawing entitled Smoker, I use acrylic to fill the background of my 72+H x 60W paper with but the rest is white gouache/pink mouth. Gouache is an opaque watercolor unforgiving and a challenge in mark making, in that you cannot erase the lines or marks made.  I like that pressure and find it immediate results suitable to my studio practice.

Mutations of Otherness – 05-06-2014 Juror: Shoshanna Weinberger

Artwork by Lemia Bodden

Mutations are the raw materials of evolution. Mutations can be a single or collective. A single mutation can have a large effect that over time duplicates to acquire a new function or form. This can provide the basis for adaptive evolution and survival.

The artists selected for Mutations of Otherness interpret the context of mutation as organic, biological, physical, psychological, political and surreal.

Drawn to the concept of multiples in the structure and tradition of the modernist grid, artist Stefani Quam uses the repetitive size as a control to define the unique with comparatives of chance in her work Ellipses. With the work Untitled, Ellie Hunter, uses mixed media collage in the grid format, reminding us of the variants found in human genetic code system. Both Quam and Hunter have unique marks within each unified shape that contains a generation of difference and as a grid is seen as a whole.

Artwork by Susan Emmerson

In the photographic work of Lemia Bodden and Sasha Andruzheychik, the mutation is the manipulation of the photography. Bodden’s photographs from the series Untitled Couples Project are portraits of couples that allude to the pluralism of a single persona into a mutation of multiple personas. These images visually become physical movement that creates mystery far removed from a typical portrait as they interchange between what appears male and female. The viewer cannot rest on just one feature, as they appear to flip back in forth. Andruzheychik’s work stems from the Surrealist tradition of imagined psychosis that deconstructs and edits information to create a disquieting gaze found in work entitled Fetish Object. These sexual and intimate vignettes of the body are mutated forms that appear to be specimens from an historical cabinet of curiosity.

Artwork by Logan Brody

This history of exploration to uncover unique objects found cabinets of curiosity from exotic worlds extend to exploration in Lauren Levato Coyne’s work. Levato-Coyne’s drawings are imagined self-portraits. Her interest in western-culture’s capture of the “unknown” to create mythos of otherness can be seen in drawing Self Portrait as Thief in the Night, alludes to her own self-invention of otherness. Levato-Coyne’s drawings stay within the borders much like a scientific drawing within the visual border. Susan Emmerson’s ink and gouache drawing entitled Heteroclite II also stays within the border like a contained mass. Emmerson abstracts her own biology creating expanding amoebic shapes that appear to metamorphosize on the paper referencing fluid shapes made of hair, tissue and microorganisms.

Artwork by Cheryl Hochberg

The natural animal world becomes the subject of mutations and is evident in the sculptural work of Michelle Acuff and Cheryl Hochberg. Acuff’s work Surrogate, a seemingly quiet deer stands supporting tangled and multiplied antlers that almost appear like twisted intestines. The work comments on multiple issues, from the industry of controlled farming to genetically modified foods and the side effects found in nature. Hochberg’s work entitled Bertha’s Monster is a combination of nature re-designed as fused animal and human parts. This work is much like an exquisite corpse of outstretched wings, goat head and human legs that appear to crash into the space.

On a smaller sculptural scale, artists, Colby Beutel, Logan Brody and Yareth Fernandez, re-invent through material to create abstract objects. Colby Beutel’s She Shells and He Shells works transform unwanted objects into surreal sculptures. Fusing zippers to create sexualized somewhat playfully menacing forms turning them into almost secretive objects. Logan Brody’s sculpture Untitled (The Shell Game series) hints at the Proterozoic Era, the beginnings or traces of life. Brody’s architectural abstract sculptural piece reveals a human finger being birthed from primal material touching on the mutations found in evolution. In the work of Yareth Fernandez, the evolution of present day consumption is addressed as disparate objects are reinvented and re-imagined into sculptures. Fernandez’s White-spotted Blue Thing lives like a growth existing within the environment, it is un-natural but seemingly we accept it as an adaptable living organism commenting on human excess of mass-produced objects as a mutation of ideology. – Shoshanna Weinberger / May 2014

20 Neighborhoods: Collaging Memories at Hamdard Center in Edgewater

Women at the Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services came together with Teaching Artist Victoria Martinez to use fiber collage techniques as a means to tell stories about their home countries of India and Pakistan, and their current lives in Chicago. For more photos, check out the Facebook album.

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Teaching Artist Victoria Martinez wanted to design a project that would emphasize the 20 Neighborhoods Project’s emphasis on themes of community and place, while at the same time representing both her own visual history as a practicing artist and the visual aspects of the South Asian culture of the women she would be working with at Hamdard. “Once I came to Hamdard Center,” Victoria said, “I noticed the women were wearing saris, so I thought that it would be a great idea to combine some of their traditions with some of the practices I use in my studio.”

Victoria guided the group of women in creating fiber-collage illustrations based on narratives of community experiences from their home countries and from Chicago, and then sewing the collages onto saris. The final installation involves sewing the ends of each sari together to represent the crossing and union of the women’s paths.

When I first visited Hamdard Center, I saw the women were a lively bunch, chatting amongst themselves in Urdu and 1239771_517488655005074_972703421_nHindi, occasionally punctured by English words. It was evident the group is close friends. Once it was time to start writing their favorite memories, the group became quiet with concentration. On colorful paper, they wrote their fondest memories of India, Pakistan and their current homes in Chicago. Once completed, they shared their stories with the group.

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Many of the recollections expounded on each woman’s bi-cultural experiences. There were stories of their childhoods in their native countries, accounts of their proudest moments in their careers, their families, and most notably, all women spoke of their love of Chicago and the joy that the Hamdard Center brought them in creating a comfortable and creative community.

After this brief storytelling, Victoria laid out vibrant fabric paper so the women could begin crafting collages to complement their story-lines with shapes of flowers, mountains, flags, and more, all artistically arranged around their narratives.

1233576_517488541671752_1689994215_nWhen I asked the women about their pieces, they were happy to share. One woman, Shahzadi Kaleemulla, wrote a three piece memory reflection of her favorite life experiences: one as a college student in a dorm, the second as a teacher, and the third describing her move to be with her family in Chicago. Another woman, Fatma Weldingwala, wrote a narrative of her past and present, which delved into the beautiful scenery of her native country and Chicago, which she symbolically emphasized in her collage piece with a delicate, long-stemmed flower.

1381948_517488785005061_685609250_nSlowly, each woman finished her collage, and Victoria began collecting their work to begin stitching each narrative to an individual sari. Vibrant turquoise-blue, golden-yellow and burgundy-red saris displayed the women’s collages, and strung together, the effect was like an opened, rolled out scroll. Each sari was like a chapter in a book, and once the saris are stitched together, they will illustrate a communal, collective history.

–Helen Celewicz, Gallery Intern

20 Neighborhoods: Art Experimentation at Imagine Englewood If…

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This year, for Phase II of the 20 Neighborhoods Project, Living Art Center’s Women Veterans Art Group and Imagine Englewood have come together to work on a collaborative art project.  The workshops have been taking place at I.E.I., a safe space for residents of Englewood to come together and imagine a bright future for the neighborhood, and strategize on how it can be attained.  Living Arts has come to Englewood from Andersonville to participate in the project, focused around this year’s theme:  “A City of Communities.” For more photos, check out the facebook album.

IEI3blogThe group, lead by teaching artist Betsy Zacsek and art therapist and Living Arts founder Suellen Semekoski, have been experimenting with paper making techniques and sculptural construction with found sticks and yarn.  On the first day of the workshop, the participants took turns wrapping colorful yarn around the sticks, and using the opportunity to talk in a safe setting about their experiences in Englewood, Chicago, and at home with their families.  The yarn and the sticks served as a powerful metaphor: when individuals are bound together to a form a community, they are less likely to break.

During the second day of the workshop, Betsy lead the group through the process of creating handmadeIEI2 paper from cotton pulp.  The pulp was dyed to bright colors, and the participants were welcomed to experiment with paints, sculpture, pressing shapes, and cutting the edges.  As Betsy said to participants during the workshop: “Experiment until you can’t stand to look at it anymore.”  She really encouraged the group to step outside of their comfort zones and try something that they had never done before.

With one more session left to go, and more experimentation in store, save the date for Monday, October 21 to visit I.E.I. and see the final product. The Community Showcase will be held in conjunction with I.E.I.’s monthly community networking event, from 4-7pm.  All are welcome, and light refreshments will be served.

–Lydia Shepard, Gallery Intern

20 Neighborhoods: Exploring Church and Community in Roseland

Teaching Artist Patricia Stewart presented an imaginative challenge to a group of women residents at Roseland Place Apartments, a senior housing residence developed by Mercy Housing. She asked the women to explore their personal and community-oriented relationships to Church, via the construction of a miniature house of worship, complete with stained glass window panes, an internal light, and a courtyard. For more photos, check out the Facebook album.

As a gallery intern, I had the opportunity to visit the workshop and talk to the women involved, thus gaining an intimate view of both the project’s development, and outcome.

In designing this project, Ms. Stewart contemplated the physical and social landscape of Black neighborhoods for inspiration. She asked herself: “What is the neighborhood known for? What do we do in the neighborhood? What are our favorite places, and basically, how do we get there?” Patricia determined some of the strongest communities are formed around churches, and used that as the basis of the project.

Ms. Stewart encouraged the women to think of the communal aspects of the neighborhood that are most important to them, and to discuss the role that church has had in their lives, and the lives of their friends and family.

The women began  the project by working individually on painting glass picture frames, which would make the stained glass windows of the church structure. Using paint, glass stones, and markers, the women made colorful, personalized designs framing the name of their favorite local church or passage from the Bible.

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As they worked, group member Kay Carter shared her experience of the project thus far: “Just using a different medium, that was a learning process for me, and that was interesting. It was something new, something I’ve never encountered in painting, and I liked it… That’s why I always try to involve myself with art, because it teaches me something new and sometimes it overflows into my life, because everything is connected.” Another collaborator, Gene, said “I enjoyed the whole thing. I love arts and crafts, so anytime it’s something dealing with doing something with my hands, I love it.”

1380643_518707174883222_2127930647_nOnce the glass stain images were completed, Ms. Stewart presented cardboard boxes which would serve as the structure for the church. Working together, the women pasted paper world maps to the cardboard, symbolizing the connectivity of various churches and various communities with one another and the larger world. Afterwards, the women fit their stained glass windows into cutouts in the cardboard, and placed an electric light inside to illuminate each stained glass image.

The individual and communal impact of the project was strongly evident. There was tremendous support and camaraderie, and there was unanimous pride amongst the women in completing something beautiful and meaningful. Speaking of her own experience, Ms. Carter shared: “Doing art period helps stabilize me as a person, and helps me evolve and helps me see what’s on the other side. It calms me down. I love color, shape and design, and whenever there’s an opportunity to do art, I do art… Art is pulling me into that aspect of community, because without art I don’t know if I could even enter into a community project. Art helps me in so many ways.”

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–Helen Celewicz, Gallery Intern