Soft Bodies: Marianne Burlew and Brianna Gluszak

Marianne Burlew and Brianna Gluszak. Soft Bodies installation Shot. Wall Space Gallery. Photo credit: Ava Margueritte.

By Moira Hayes

Vulnerability of the self is created in how we choose to take up space. How do we present ourselves to others? What choices are we making to allow space for others? And more presently, what space are we holding for ourselves?

Soft Bodies was exhibited from March 11th through to April 4th at Wall Space Gallery in Ottawa. Marianne Burlew and Brianna Gluszak were paired together by the gallery’s curator, Tiffany April, to deliver an exhibition hinged on the idea of vulnerability.

Burlew is based in Ottawa. She draws from a background of video and sculpture to create her current work; emotionally driven pieces in a 3D modelling software. While her work is direct, the colourful imagery offers multiple interpretations for the viewer; striking questions about seriousness versus sarcasm. Burlew received her MFA from the University of Waterloo.

Gluszak is Ohio-based. They work in sculpture to create glasswork and textile rug hooking, addressing ideas of gender and body. Gluszak draws inspiration from cartoons and how viewing one another can become gendered. The varying scale of their work between the textile pieces and the glass work impose different connotations for the viewer. Gluszak has an MFA from The Ohio State University.

Marianne Burlew, Folly, Ed: 1/100, archival print on Hot Press paper, 16 x 20 in. Framed by Wall Space.

Marianne, you work with digital 3D modelling software, and working digitally makes things accessible. The feelings you point at in your work, patheticness or being a fool, are universal emotions. Can you speak to using digital software to express human emotions?

MB: My background is in sculpture and video. One of the biggest obstacles I was having was getting my work into a space due to budget, facilities, distance, and accessibility. In my current job at an engineering company, I weaseled my way into learning this modelling software.

I just fell in love with the software, and I saw it as an opportunity to make things that could reach a lot more people. You can make a print, put it on a screen, or put it on social media or different places a lot more easily.

I do feel hesitant in some ways to share work online publicly, just because it is easy to have your work taken. I’d love to have it on screens and more readily available on social media if I had a little bit more protection in that area.

I’ve also fallen in love with the print aspect of it. When it gets printed, there’s another transformation that’s amazing for me. That bright, vibrant, densely saturated paper with the colour, and how different parts of the work will be flat, and others will be three-dimensional is interesting to me.

Brianna Gluszak, Please don’t forget me, Blown glass, 19.5 x 12 x 7.5 in.

Brianna, can you explain the process of composing the positions of your glass pieces? They kind of look like people playing Twister.

BG: I love that read. First off, I think one thing I do with the glass works, in particular, is that I’ll make a bunch of them. I don’t know which ones are going to go with which ones. So, it ends up being a process of almost creating a library of glass objects. I’ll have a period of making in the studio where I’ll be doing drawings, and then I’ll be going into the glass shop trying to make that original drawn form.

But the glass is like, “No, I don’t wanna be that form.” I’ll go back to drawing, I’ll draw the form it did become, and through that translation, we’ll build up a variety of different shapes and colours and textures and objects. And then I play with them in my studio, and I just see which ones fit together and which ones I like together.

And maybe I’m too much of an object oncologist where I’m like, okay, so this one wants to be with this one today, and this one wants to be with that one. They’ve sort of become personified in a lot of ways for me. I do see them as being a representation of gender and body.

Marianne Burlew, Pathetic, archival print on Hot Press paper, 28 3/4 x 36 in, framed by Wall Space Gallery.

Marianne, you face the unavoidable, uncanny imagery of worship in your pieces. But you derail that with a practiced absurdity. Can you discuss the process of choosing the keywords in your pieces?

MB: You’re right about worship. My family is Christian, but I didn’t grow up going to church. I’ve never read the Bible.

There’s a lot of Western influence in what I make and so I just try to play with it. I’m not necessarily trying to cite any kind of religion, but for this series, I was very interested in shrines or putting together devotional pieces where it’s almost more of a spiritual devotion where the piece sits as an architectural niche.

Sometimes there are other objects. Sometimes it’s just the glass itself creating these moments where you can sit with these things and meditate on them. 

And for me, the word [aspect] of it seems essential. And choosing is hard to describe. It’s trying to capture things that are succinct and hard-hitting but don’t lean completely in one direction.

When I was making “pathetic,” I felt like it was harsh and I [thought] this might be too mean to just put pathetic in a window like that. You’re going to reflect that criticism of yourself. I feel like the colours were so nice then making it like that’s the twist, taking something so devastating and then trying to make it beautiful and fun.

I am interested in active looking and when a look becomes ingrained in gender.

Brianna Gluszak, I kissed a girl and I liked it…, tufted rug, 52 x 26 1/2 x 1/2 in. 

Brianna, your rug work possesses an unavoidable gaze disguised as fun and playful. The sheer size of the work denotes power over the viewer, especially up close. Are you proposing a struggle between the work and the viewer? What did you aim to convey with the choice of scale? It feels like a staring contest between the viewer and this work.

BG: I think the scale has become kind of like a natural choice for that work. The rugs started during COVID when I got locked out of the studio, and was like, okay, let’s figure out a way to make things at home.

This particular series of rugs is about research that I’ve been doing on Tex Avery’s character Wolfy, from “Red Hot Riding Hood,” which is the first instance in cartooning where the eyes come out of a character’s head at the sight of a woman.

The version available on YouTube ends as Wolfy pulls Little Red Riding Hood off a stage after his eyes have shot out at her. But that’s not where the cartoon actually ends. From going into the cartoon archives, I found the other half of the cartoon.

Wolfy goes to grandma’s house and grandma oogle’s him back with AWOOGA eyes, and the wolf runs away. But what I thought was so interesting about the archive version versus the version that was available on YouTube is that role switch.

We always constantly think of the wolf’s eyes shooting out at Little Red Riding Hood, but we don’t really think about grandma. You know, how she sort of gets him back because she’s like, “oh, you’re sexy wolfI’m gonna look at you that way.” 

I am interested in active looking and when a look becomes ingrained in genderWhen a look is perceived to be the male gaze or the female gaze and what things we like to note between that.

Marianne Burlew and Brianna Gluszak. Soft Bodies installation Shot. Wall Space Gallery. Photo credit: Ava Margueritte.

There is a conversation between the works about depth. Marianne’s work draws the viewer inward, holding space inside the pieces. Whereas Brianna’s work pushes into the viewer’s space, demanding room from the viewer. How do you find this lends to the overall idea of vulnerability in Soft Bodies?

BG: Some of the work stems from things that could be seen as vulnerable, but I am more interested in the opposite end of that word, and it being more explorative in an empowering way. Or in a way to have the viewer understand a different identity than they came in understanding.

For me, that kind of pushing out, and enveloping of the viewer, is about how to involve them in the work or have them gain a connection to it. The allowance of the viewer is to take as much or as little as they want of what I’m trying to get across.

And I do think that one of the interesting things about Marianne’s work is that you’re almost sucked into another world versus being present in this space.

MB: Brianna’s work is a lot more present in the space. Each piece is like its own body. And then mine is much more about an internal space or having space within them. But I think that push and pull can be great. I mean, vulnerability is just about rethinking or allowing yourself to be open to rethinking. I think Brianna’s talking about reaching into space being confrontational with the gaze and that engagement, whereas a lot of my inclination is to go smaller and deeper internally. I think the show has a good balance and a good variety to it because there are many different ways that you’re being reached out to, or you have to reach into.

And I don’t necessarily think we have to have done the same thing or have the same method to accomplish that. Vulnerability would just be like that shift of a boundary, right? Or that invitation to change your mind.

You can find more of Marianne Burlew and Brianna Gluszak‘s work on their Instagram.

How We Came to Be and Why We’re Here: In Conversation with Djenabé Edouard

Here & Home

The Riverdale Hub

Mayworks Festival of Working People & the Arts

Felicia Byron, Sydellia Ndiaye and Shai Buddah, curated by Djenabé Edouard

Here & Home Postcard. The Dive by Felicia Byron. Photos courtesy of Djenabé Edouard and the artist.

By Elizabeth Polanco

My eye first lands on the soft pink ear of a conch shell resting on a stack of books that are arranged just so. Crochet doilies make spiderwebs on a carved wooden coffee table and the soft red arms of a couch. Leaning against a steamer trunk with a record player rigged on top is the shining face of Rita Marley; I catch her smiling up at me through the thin plastic of a vinyl sleeve.

Mismatched wooden frames, the kind that would dot a grandmother’s wall with dated photos of weddings or graduations, enshrine a variety of portraits. There’s a smiling line of schoolgirls in lilac uniforms. There are solemn men, a mother and child, and boys playacting toughness. A young boy backflips off a pier in a glorious arc, his arms outstretched to the streak of azure waiting below.

Everything here – the photographs, the living room mise en scène – has been tenderly assembled to create the visual language of somewhere. The room is permeated with a distinct, diasporic feeling of place and belonging – to a somewhere that isn’t here. Yet this space understands that a sense of home can be conjured by something as simple as a meal, a song, a photograph, or a dance.

Here & Home, a group exhibition at the Riverdale Hub, explores the rocky, tenuous borderland between these two disparate places. In collaboration with Mayworks, the labour-centered community arts festival, the show celebrates Afro-Caribbean experiences of migration while addressing the difficult realities — exploitation, alienation — forged by unjust systems of labour. The exhibition is a patchwork of different mediums, featuring portraits from the photographic series “Out of Many, One People,” by Felicia Byron, “Visionary,” a choreographed dance film by Shai Buddah, and “Wild Flower,” a poem by spoken word artist Sydellia Ndiaye. It’s a project deeply invested in exploring how it feels when home is beyond reach, and cultivating growth often means forsaking the fruits of your labour.

I spoke with multidisciplinary artist Djenabé Edouard, the show’s curator, whose devotional approach to bringing visibility to Afro-Caribbean narratives and legacies radiates throughout Here & Home. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Here & Home Installation Shot by Djenabé Edouard. “Wild Flower” by Sydellia Ndiaye. Photos courtesy of Djenabé Edouard and the artist.

I’d love to start with your vision of the show and how things manifested.

Right away, looking at themes of labour in the arts, I was immediately thinking about the photographer Felicia Byron and her work. I had actually mentored her as part of the NIA Centre‘s Creative Catalyst program in 2020; she showed me this series [Out of Many, One People] and it stuck with me for a while.

I was thinking about creating a dualistic approach within the Afro-Caribbean lens of here and home and what that feels like — where home truly is for Afro-Caribbean people of the diaspora — and Felicia’s series stood out as such poignant portraits of folks from Jamaica. It felt timeless, in the sense that we can always pinpoint these little cultural moments within these portraits and relate to them. People at the opening reception made remarks that these photos feel like they’re from St Kitts or Barbados, all the different islands. That was the key point, that it resonated with the whole Caribbean diaspora.

It was around themes of labour and legacy and migration and belonging, and how we have this nostalgic feeling of family being elsewhere, and our home being where we are. There’s a lot of layers to it, but the portraits were the cornerstone.

Then Sydellia’s poem followed. I had followed her work for some time and that poem really stood out as something that could be versatile, that the context could shift towards relating to someone in the labour field, who may not feel nurtured or even visible.

Felicia Byron. St. Hilda’s Girls. (Brown’s Town, Jamaica 2015). Photos courtesy of Djenabé Edouard and the artist.

One thing that really struck me in the exhibit was the lived-in feeling. There’s a couch, records, and even the frames for the photos — these feel like they would be in someone’s home, they’re not sterile gallery frames. I was curious about the importance of reminiscence or nostalgia to this show.

Creating a sense of home was a very big part of it. We wanted to create a living room installation and I actually worked with my mother, who selected the frames from Value Village! It was really meant to feel quaint and homey in that sense. Some of the pieces came from my mother’s house, like the conch shell, and that’s my vinyl player. It was about creating that space where people feel like they belong, and it feels familiar and nostalgic.

Felicia brought in some books and other trinkets from her mother, so it was a culmination of these little collected items from past generations. That’s what made it even more special. It was across time that these things were collected, instead of my contemporary belongings. We looked for those pieces that we could be like, “This is what I saw when I grew up.”

I feel like it’s more effective in creating recognition for a viewer than just looking at a framed photo on a wall. There are other markers in the space that tell you that you can see yourself here.

It was so important for people to feel like they were allowed to engage with the living room space. Often in galleries, you see this sterile set up, and I wanted people to feel like they could sit on the couch, flip through the books, hang out and take in the work.

Here & Home. Visionary Still. Choreography by Shai Buddah and Cinematography by Patricia Ellah. Photos courtesy of Djenabé Edouard and the artist.

Scanning the show, there’s a lot of different media being used. There’s photography, dance, and spoken word poetry — was it intentional to have artists from different pockets of the art world?

I wanted to merge these different mediums, as far as text, visual art, and movement — I felt like there’s these different capacities to evoke emotions from each of them. The dance piece was created specifically for Here & Home. Shai choreographed it, and Patricia Ellah was the cinematographer. That piece was really to speak to how the Afro-Caribbean diaspora moves through migration, emotionally, and how disorienting a lot of that can feel.

The dance itself was very intricate, in that it had these moments of rejoice, and other moments of depletion, sadness, and hopelessness. We wanted to capture the range of emotions that happens for folks who remove themselves from their initial home, and in coming to a new home feel alienated, unsure how to belong, how to feel and fit in. Those elements of culture shock came into play as well. The different mediums were very intentional — I wanted more ways than one to express the emotional arcs of migration and shifting where your home is.

Felicia Byron. Ride Through Town (Discovery Bay, Jamaica 2015). Photos courtesy of Djenabé Edouard and the artist.

Since this exhibit is in collaboration with the Mayworks Festival, there’s a heavy focus on labour. Can you speak to wanting to show the Afro-Caribbean experience and its relationship, as fraught or interconnected as it is, with labour and migration?

A lot of Felicia’s portraits spoke to the folks that are in the labour field, but with an intent to humanize them — to humanize our family members who work hard to give us the privileges we have, to put us in the positions we’re in as the following generation. And Sydellia’s poem was the narrative arc of how Afro-Caribbean people engage with the labour force and the sentiments that come from that: not feeling nurtured, like they don’t belong, and constantly questioning their worth.

We also had the chance to engage with the Black Class Action lawsuit folks. We went through a lot of their materials, and these narratives were coming up again and again. These workers come to a place to plant their seeds and grow, but they’re being continuously stifled, unable to be promoted, and kept in these same positions for years on end.

These were the big things we saw across the board, how stifling it can be to migrate and labour in a new place and not feel like you can grow there. You’re this specific cog in this specific wheel and that’s your only position. And it made me think back to a lot of my own family members — my uncle came from Jamaica; he was a butcher and had his own shop there. Here, he’s working for Maple Leaf and he’s still a butcher, but he hasn’t been able to cultivate more autonomy or promotions.

We create comfort back home, but we know that the shift is inevitably to grow and to access more, and that’s where the disconnect comes. With not being able to access more, we’re not able to give back to the next generation, and that creates a rupture in the legacy that our communities are trying to build overseas.

Legacy was an inherent theme that was going to run throughout the exhibit. 

You’ve written about preserving oral histories and its importance to your work. There’s so much that can be left behind — memories, myths, even entire ways of living or taking care of the land. What is it about that idea of legacy that attracts you as a curator?

It’s such an underlying factor in making work as an Afro-Caribbean person. It’s the same way that making art as an Afro-Caribbean person is inherently political — we’re always trying to build a legacy through art and tell our stories, ones that aren’t often told in the broader context of academic spaces. It becomes the only medium in which we can tell our stories — through art, through creating space for other artists. Legacy was an inherent theme that was going to run throughout the exhibit.

Sydellia’s poem follows you as you move throughout the gallery, it’s not fixed in one place. Can you speak to that process, and the intention?

That ended up being the most difficult part. Initially, I thought to have it in its own space, but I saw the value in breaking it up into stanzas and lines and placing it in particular areas, around certain photographs, to further amplify the message or call to it.

When Sydellia and I spoke about doing that, she was very open to it, which I was happy about — I know most artists want their full piece to be acknowledged as is. So that choice was intentional, but the actual placement and decisions were difficult. We tried to let it flow.

What would you like to see more of in curatorial practices, and in art spaces, moving forward?

More work from artists of colour, women artists. I advocate very heavily for Afro-Caribbean art and culture and heritage, and specifically, the female gaze. It’s a component that’s often missing — the female gaze unfiltered or unobstructed by male perspectives or input. That’s something we often lack in the art space. You’ll see female artists in a show, but with a male curator, and it’s still going through their lens. Being able to work with all women, all Afro-Caribbean women, and be the curator, was a very privileged opportunity for me. Allowing our work to speak from the core of our heart, what we really wanted it to mean, and how we wanted it to resonate was very important.

I also love that you got to collaborate with your mom on this. Legacy is really the glue between this show’s themes.

She’s such a creative person; I always love to engage her in that way and create that dialogue through art. And seeing work across generations is important — the older generation still has a lot to say, and we don’t take it in. We feel like we know what’s best now, how things work. But in the spirit of preserving oral histories, there’s still so much that has been left unsaid, so much that they can offer us, show us, teach us. We get wrapped up in this contemporary lifestyle — tech, advancement — and we forget the past and the value and gems that exist in those ideologies and ways of being. When we hear more of these backstories, of our families, we recontextualize our own stories in new ways. We have a broader perspective of how we came to be and why we’re even here.

Here & Home runs from May 2 – 18, 2023 at the Riverdale Hub as part of the Mayworks Festival of Working People & the Arts. You can find more of Djenabé’s work on her website and social media.

On May 17 at 7PM, attend a performance by spoken word poet Sydellia Ndiaye at the Here & Home Closing Reception.

Memory Mirror by Lares Feliciano: A Reflection on Recollection

Lares Feliciano. Memory Mirror, 2021-2023. Images of Memory Mirror courtesy of Lares Feliciano and the Denver Art Museum.

Lares Feliciano

Denver Art Museum

July 4, 2021 – June 18, 2023

By Alida Kress

Lares Feliciano transforms the Denver Art Museum’s Precourt Family Discovery Hall into a timeless, vibrant sanctuary of nostalgia with her multimedia installation, Memory Mirror.  Her stylized work moves viewers to confront their relationships with memory and explore the history of the marginalized communities who have shaped Denver’s history. Feliciano’s extensive use of the gallery space encourages viewers to interact with the installation’s various elements. As such, she creates a piece that invites viewers to see her work and become part of it themselves.

As I approach the gallery, I am beckoned in by the sounds of jazz softly underlying an audial collage of recorded memories. Enormous flowers bloom on vintage wallpaper adorning the walls in a 1970s supergraphics style, and from behind the colorful blossoms, grey-toned faces peer down at me. 

Shadow boxes containing sentimental items donated by the Denver public hang on the wall and, across the room, two vintage chairs invite me to sit. An old TV, globe, rotary phone, and other vintage items accompany the chairs in their place on a large rug. Although these items were foreign to me, something about their arrangement felt comfortable, almost familiar. 

Lares Feliciano. Memory Mirror, 2021-2023. Images of Memory Mirror courtesy of Lares Feliciano and the Denver Art Museum.

Graphics stylistically akin to hand-drawn, children’s book illustrations are projected on a large oval frame. The cheerful animations provide visual accompaniment to the memories being recounted overhead. I felt compelled to look at each item in the shadow boxes, sit in the chairs, spin the globe, and even dial my number on the rotary phone. All elements of the installation work in conjunction to instill a sense of hazy nostalgia in me which I yearned to follow to some philosophical conclusion. 

Lares Feliciano is a Denver-based artist from California who works in multimedia design to create interactive art installations. The local artist has another installation at Meow Wolf Denver, an artist collective that collaborates with local artists to create maximalist, interactive art installations at permanent locations across the U.S.[1] At the installation in Denver, Feliciano applies her unique artistic style to breathe life into the Portals of Theseus collection.[2] The whimsical nature of her work with Meow Wolf remains evident within this installation as well. 

 Memory Mirror opened in July of 2021 and will continue through June 18th of 2023. Prior to the installation’s debut, Feliciano set up an in-person event and a phone number at which the public could leave a voicemail recalling a significant memory of theirs. Participants were also invited to donate images and items of sentimental value to be displayed in the gallery. The photographs incorporated into the wallpapers are partially these images donated by participants, but most were taken from the Denver Library’s official archives and depict a wide range of Denver’s diverse cultural history. 

Lares Feliciano. Memory Mirror, 2021-2023. Images of Memory Mirror courtesy of Lares Feliciano and the Denver Art Museum.

In my conversation with Feliciano, she shared that her inspiration for the piece came largely from her dad who passed away from early-onset Alzheimer’s when she was 16. Recalling her own relationship with memory and her dad, she notes that memory is an intangible thing, the loss of which, however, is incredibly tangible. Thus, in Memory Mirror, she attempts to capture tangible markers of memory that not only reflect the associated moment in the donor’s life, but also their relationship with the memory as they recall it. She stated that the installation is not trying to make sense of memory or give it any type of order, but simply to give it a place. 

In asking Feliciano about what she hoped viewers might gain from experiencing the installation, she said, “Hopefully their own nostalgia is triggered and they are forced to remember… anything.” For me, the piece was a way to interact with and process trauma. The nature of the space encouraged me to recall difficult memories and sit with them in ways I hadn’t before. The space was soft and calm, and it felt as though the words tumbling from my mouth had a safe place to exist outside of my own mind.  

In an interview with Westword, Feliciano shared, “My work often evokes a dreamlike nostalgia where decades overlap and all of time exists at once.”[3] This sentiment is incredibly apparent in the installation. While much of the installation is a call to self-reflection, just as significant is how it spotlights the history of Denver’s marginalized communities. The images Feliciano edited into the flowers on the wallpapers feature mainly people of color. These photos feature nostalgic photographs of varying levels of formality. Feliciano showcases a history of people of color in Denver by including everything from images of CU Denver’s minority student organizations in the 1950s to an image of Denver’s Bruce Randolf at his street naming ceremony. Feliciano described this part of the installation as a method to “give them their flowers,” sharing that she “had no idea what sort of celebrations have existed for any of these people, but they’re here if nothing else.”

Lares Feliciano. Memory Mirror, 2021-2023. Images of Memory Mirror courtesy of Lares Feliciano and the Denver Art Museum.

In the wake of the pandemic, Feliciano wanted to acknowledge how hard it is to exist, but also how powerful it is to be able to remember something good. We discussed the potential of all of time existing at once, and how recognizing that is an incredible way to deal with grief and trauma. For anyone who has read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Memory Mirror is a step towards seeing every moment of life all at once, like one would behold a stretch of the Rocky Mountains.[4]

 Feliciano’s work urges her viewers to lean into the resemblance Memory Mirror holds to a relative’s living room. It encourages viewers to sit in that nostalgia either to process their relationship with memory or to learn a little more about Denver’s collective memory and the histories of marginalized communities so often written out of colonial history books.

Memory Mirror facilitates a multifaceted experience in which the viewer is invited to explore not only their own memories, but the memory of the city they are in. Feliciano has created a piece that cradles the viewer’s internal child and allows them the space and safety to sit, feel, and remember. 

[1] “Meow Wolf: Immersive Art Experiences,” Meow Wolf: Immersive Art Experiences, accessed April 2023,

[2]“Meow Wolf Denver Introduced Portals of Theseus,” Taking The Kids, January 7, 2023,

[3] Kyle Harris, “Lares Feliciano Wants Your Memories for a Denver Art Museum Installation,” Westword (Westword, March 17, 2021),

[4] Jr Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five: The Children’s Crusade (London: Vintage Books, 2000), 86.

Make Me Less Evil: In Conversation with Angie Quick

Angie Quick. Make Me Less Evil installation shot, Museum London. Image courtesy of the artist.

By Adi Berardini

The first thing to know about Angie Quick is that she isn’t afraid to express herself. Whether that means speaking her mind or making fluid and fleshy paintings, Quick has a way of captivating an audience. I have gotten to know Angie since she is my studio mate and last spring, we switched studio spaces. We helped each other move our paintings and supplies, and I admit, I may have gotten a bit excited about stumbling upon one of the erotic lesbian magazines she uses as a reference. Tenderness across time is at the forefront of Quick’s mind. Inspired by the everyday and encapsulating effortless eroticism, she is interested in how modern life can seem just as antiquated as the classical periods before and what it means to envision a more empowered way of being.

Working in both painting and performance as a medium, Quick is a self-taught artist who has established herself in the local London art scene over the past years. Her recent solo exhibitions include The Moonlight Made Me Do It at the McIntosh Gallery in 2021 and when i die i will have loved everything at Glenhyrst Gallery in 2019. She has had an exciting year with her first commercial solo show at the Michael Gibson Gallery, A Life of Crime, and an exhibition at Museum London, entitled Make Me Less EvilQuick forefronts the question: Can art make you less evil? 

Angie Quick. i won’t be happy until you’re dead, 72x60in., oil on canvas, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

Can you explain more about your exhibition ‘Make Me Less Evil’ at the Museum London and your inspiration behind it?

I didn’t know what the show was going to look like. I was just looking at stuff, researching, trying to figure out what I wanted to make. The earlier paintings were the Vermeer paintings. I was looking at a lot of Vermeer work and that was the impetus for it.

I was looking at classical works and the idea of the figure within them. That body of work is about tenderness and vulnerability and looking at intimacy. And I think that was often portrayed through bodies and the title Make Me Less Evil. That came midway while I was working on the series.

I was thinking a lot about personal ethics, like the idea of [someone] asking to be made less evil. But then also the power of art and if art can make one less evil, by the viewer looking at the work. I like that title as an overarching theme because as I was making the work, it just seemed fitting. I think because people find some of my work eroticism or see erotic things within it there’s like this “turning away.” I think it’s asking a question of the viewer and embracing it.

Angie Quick Make Me Less Evil installation shot, Vermeer inspired series. Museum London. Image courtesy of the artist.

The way I interpreted it is a lot of times, especially women, if they’re promiscuous or sexual, they’re made out to be “evil” when that’s not the same standard as men. So, I thought that was an interesting title because it’s almost reclaiming eroticism itself.

 I felt like the title could mean something to anyone who reads it because I think anyone could have a sense of what that looks like to be made less evil or what they carry within themselves or what society puts on [them]. I think a lot of my work is breaking down those boundaries of what we consider right or wrong or what we’re allowed to do or not allowed to do.

In addition to ‘Make Me Less Evil’ you recently had a solo show at Michael Gibson Gallery, A Life of CrimeA Life of Crime deals more with the implication of people in the space, with a more abstract approach and an inspiration from the Rococo era of opulence. On the other hand, ‘Make Me Less Evil’ is more erotic and depicts people in intimate settings. Can you explain the difference in your artistic vision in ‘A Life of Crime?’

I feel like the difference is more something I can see once I saw both works separately, but they almost bled into each other. They were similar and yet different. I made the museum work, but as I was making the museum work, Michael Gibson asked me to do this exhibition.

I made a whole new body of work and some of the work that was going to go to the museum ended up going to the Gibson Gallery. I think there must have been a shift occurring where fewer bodies were visibly present within the work. And it was almost like the bodies are present but absent at the same time. Whereas within the museum work, they’re very much in your face and present. I don’t know why that shift started happening. I do think I was looking at more Rococo work and more at the furniture and the interiors and the sense of someone maybe having just left the room or the memories that exist within the room.

Angie Quick. the night you wore your jogging suit to bed, 60 x 60, oil on canvas, 2022. Museum London. Image courtesy of the artist.

You can see the influence of your everyday life in your paintings. For example, referencing parts of your living room in ‘A Life of Crime’ or your self-portrait Make Me Less Evil depicting yourself napping on your studio couch. Can you explain more about your interest in referencing the everyday in your work? 

 I think everything that I experience in a day culminates onto the canvas. Not so much that it’s a portrait of myself, but I think my interest in being obsessed with something in my everyday life can make its way into the canvas and then it is next to something not directly related to me.

I think those things being in relation allows room for a viewer to make their own narrative within the canvas. So [that’s] why I like having personal stuff—it’s the same with my titles. My titles are probably the most autobiographical parts of all the paintings because those are usually direct snippets from my life while I’m working.

I think that kind of sensibility also lends itself to personal items that make it into [the work]. And I like the idea that there are moments in the canvas that are maybe just for me, but then suddenly it’s for everyone else. I think that the difference between what’s personal and impersonal. The lines blurring is exciting to me.

Can you touch upon your interest in depicting vulnerability in ‘Make Me Less Evil’? Can you also expand on your interest in intimacy and eroticism through your paintings?

It’s one of those things where I maybe am not hyper-aware that I’m making very erotic work. It’s maybe after the fact, having people look at the work and then tell me it’s either shocking or erotic. I don’t think I’m aware of it when I’m making a painting. I like the interactions of bodies and self and it just feels natural for me to come out into those dialogues. I don’t know if it just comes down to being shameless or if that’s just what I’m fascinated and obsessed with.

I love how you spoke about how butts are universal because everyone has one during your artist tour at Museum London.

I don’t even know what the psychoanalysis of that is, but I think there is something about how it’s a non-gendered thing. Everyone has a butt. And I also like the idea of the naked body just existing almost in a timelessness.

But are we just like a Caravaggio painting with a cell phone?

I sometimes wonder how much we’ve progressed or changed as people, when I’m looking at so much classical work and stuff, I think okay, now we have cellphones. But are we just like a Caravaggio painting with a cell phone? There’s so much moralism that still exists and restrictions that I have a hard time thinking that there’s much liberation within a lot of how we live.

I think it’s an interesting parallel to think of, they had letters before, but now we have texts. There are a lot of parallels even though it’s such a different time. 

I think now we can get things more immediately. We still love Shakespeare so much. It makes me think that as people, we only have a certain [number] of emotions and that’s why Shakespeare still seems relevant because it still resonates with all that we can express.

I also love Anne Carson. She’s like a classicist and she’ll take classical work and make it relevant to today so it’s almost like collapsing the timeline. But sometimes I can find that depressing too. It’s not that I don’t believe in progress necessarily, but sometimes when people look at my work and they’re like, “oh, this is happening,” I think that shouldn’t be shocking. It just seems like there’s no change.

You hope and you think that there’s progress, but even just seeing what’s happening now politically, rights are being rolled back. How far have we actually come?

It seems medieval almost. I feel like one of the differences now is that we do have the internet so it’s easier to make propaganda, but it’s also harder at the same time to control a whole population. I can be in communication with somebody in Europe and finding out information and stuff can be translated quicker. But sometimes I think we’re just very medieval, just wearing Adidas or something. Then that sense of humanity is important to me in my work and when I’m saying tenderness, it is seeing people as people.

Angie Quick. the cannoli eaters, 60x120in., oil on canvas, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

You have explained how you are interested in certain symbolism such as animals (lambs, rabbits, etc.) and religious symbolism in art historical contexts. Can you explain more about your use of symbolism?

I think because I was raised by two atheists that religion and Christianity are constantly very shocking to me. I was talking to my mom today about how people can be so horrified about sexuality or just like the freedom of an individual to be themselves.

And yet we can walk by churches all the time and there’s just like crosses and crosses resemble someone being killed. A naked man dying on a cross is constantly in our subconscious. Since I was a kid, I was wrapping my head around that.

I think I find it fascinating how so much of western art history uses those things, but they don’t necessarily mean what they’re supposed to mean to me, they become something else. I think I’m creating a personal narrative and ownership of certain symbols and then playing against universal ones. 

I think I just get attracted to certain things and I’m also really into emojis. I think the emoji is like the modern-day crucifix. It’s a sense of using something to delineate information in the shortest amount of time. And so, utilizing that in painting is interesting to me. And then, I can have my own symbolism that I start to create in my work by constantly or obsessively using it. I think they relate to each other since it’s a pictorial language and that’s why I find it exciting. I like the idea of information being condensed and then becoming something that can mean something to everybody. And then maybe skewing that slightly.

Who are some artists (or other inspirations such as books or music) that influence you and your work?

I like Salman Toor a lot. I liked like his sense of playfulness in his work, but then also there’s like a very strong resonance of personal meaning within it.  

I’ve read a lot of Sheila Heti this year, I read all her work. And Jesse Ball wrote Autoportrait, which is inspired by a [memoir by a French writer Édouard Levé], but I was reading a lot of works of autofiction and auto portrait. I think I was also listening to a podcast, and they were talking about how that’s like a new feminist way of writing and I think it’s taking control of one’s narrative. I find that was very influential in how I was working. I don’t know exactly how, but like somehow just taking in all that information. Anne Carson is also a huge influence.

I’ve always loved Cecily Brown because I think she’s like a good painter’s painter. Yeah, I feel like since I was fifteen, I’ve been haunted by Cecily Brown’s paintings.

Do you have anything you’re working on that you’d like to share?

I’m interested in the idea of horniness. At the Gibson opening, someone described my work as being horny and I love that. That’s the best compliment to me because I feel like that’s such a huge encompassing feeling. I’m interested in it and countering the impulse to procreate, the idea of being horny being almost universal, and the way that we can engage in that and the sense of purpose in life and horniness, but in a liberated sense. Like that horniness is liberation.

I was listening to a podcast with Meeka Walsh, who’s the editor for Border Crossings [Magazine], and she was talking about how a good piece of art makes you want to make love. And I was like, oh, horny. It was a more intellectual way of saying horny—I love that.

Check out Angie Quick’s exhibition Make Me Less Evil on view at Museum London until May 28th, 2023.

Hear on Treaty 7: The Politics of Sound

The Politics of Sound. Installation Shot. Images courtesy of Galt Museum & Archives | Akaisamitohkanao’pa

jamilah malika abu-bakare, Adam Basanta, Marjie Crop Eared Wolf, Maskull Lasserre, Benny Nemer and Jessica Thompson

Curated by Tyler J Stewart
Exhibition design by Jane Edmundson

November 26, 2022 – May 7, 2023

The Galt Museum & Archives

By Migueltzinta Solís

You may have heard of something that unfolded recently here in so-called Lethbridge, Alberta at the University of Lethbridge. Philosophy professor Paul Viminitz, known for saying the n-word in class and for calling a Blackfoot student’s status card his “victim card,” invited residential school denier Frances Widdowson to deliver a lecture against teaching Indigenous Knowledge in secondary education. Thankfully, a mainly student-led grassroots response swiftly changed the University of Lethbridge’s tone from defending “free speech” to – somewhat – acknowledging the grievousness of allowing a bigoted and hateful provocateur to speak on campus. Colonial sound marks and speech acts are unmistakable in this prairie city, from the thundering of the train over the Highlevel Bridge to the gunshots that echo up and down the Old Man River valley from the police department’s shooting range. But these aren’t the only sounds, histories, and voices that make up the aural landscape of Treaty 7 territory.

The Galt Museum & Archives is one of several cultural institutions in Alberta welcoming art exhibitions into their programming, allowing creative work by contemporary artists to bring historical objects, sites, and stories into the present. The Politics of Sound, as exhibited at the Galt, is interpreted for a considerably broad audience, from K-12 school groups to senior citizens to post-secondary students. The didactics which accompany components of The Politics of Sound use accessible language to present thoughtful questions and critically engaged analysis of the works, drawing connections between the artworks and the historical objects on display.

Marjie Crop Eared Wolf’s Niitsi’powahsin Secwepemctsín.Installation Shot. Images courtesy of Galt Museum & Archives | Akaisamitohkanao’pa

Marjie Crop Eared Wolf’s Niitsi’powahsin Secwepemctsín is a combined video and drawing work that tells the story of her project to reclaim Siksikáí’powahsin and Secwepemctsín language knowledge. Three drawings are flanked by two screens paired with headphones, the videos framing the artist’s mouth, chin, and shoulders. In the video, Crop Eared Wolf wears headphones, repeating Blackfoot words in one video and Secwepemctsín in the other. Putting on the headphones, one hears Crop Eared Wolf speaking sporadically, repeating the words recited by the language tutorial (which is only sometimes audible) she is listening to. We are brought close to witness this act of language revival and survivance, an act which is as much about the embodiment of sounds that happens through listening, as it is about the embodiment that comes from speaking.

Marjie Crop Eared Wolf’s drawings pull you in—stepping close, one realizes that the delicate red curving forms are made of individual words in Siksikáí’powahsin and Secwepemctsín, respectively. The words flow, gather, and disperse across the paper like schools of red fish, and looking at them while listening to Crop Eared Wolf’s voice, language is alive, escaping the bind of the Latin alphabet. The images created are a visual expression of the reach for her mother tongue, for the richness of knowing that comes with understanding the untranslatable. Crop Eared Wolf does not speak for the benefit of the listener, rather she speaks for herself, for her cultures. As sonar has reached into the ground to find stolen Indigenous children at Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc (Kamloops), so does Marjie Crop Eared Wolf’s voice reach into herself and across time to reclaim stolen language-cultures which have survived that same genocidal system.

Adam Basanta. Installation Shot. Images courtesy of Galt Museum & Archives | Akaisamitohkanao’pa

Adam Basanta’s exhibited works dodge the entrapments of high conceptual work in favour of sociable and accessible invitations to consider unexpected materializations of sound.In The loudest sound in the room experienced very quietly, a sound as loud as a car horn plays in 30-second intervals, rendered inaudible by the thick double casing in which it is displayed. While simple, the added context of this being shown within a history museum makes me think of the narrative agency of objects which continue to speak to us from within the museum’s vitrine. This work is just a few cases away from a large brass bell, which moves me to think about the colonial sound mark of the bell – church bell, school bell, train bell – as a sound whose ideological impact continues even as it sits deactivated in the archive.

The Politics of Sound. Installation Shot. Images courtesy of Galt Museum & Archives | Akaisamitohkanao’pa

Jessica Thompson’s Walking Machine invites the listener to turn the ear toward the self. The “machine” consists of two small microphones that are attached to the cuffs of one’s pants. Through a small, handheld amplifier, the sounds of one’s walking are enjoyed in real time by the walker. While I had expected to hear my own footsteps, I had not expected to hear the creak of my leather boots amplified as well, not to mention the tfff of a dragged left heel. I was instantly taken back to a moment in undergrad when I walked into a friend’s home – a fellow proto-trans man at the time – who called out from another room, “Ah! It’s you!” as soon as he heard my footsteps coming across his wooden floor. When I asked how he knew, he told me he recognized the distinct way I dragged the heels of my oversized Harley Davidson boots. At times feeling like a pocket call to oneself, Walking Machine is successful as a prosthetic for facilitating self-listening, perhaps making a case for distinguishing self-reflection from self-hearing. As a walker, I am given the space to ask, How is the sound of my walking coded? How are my footsteps gendered? Racialized? How do I sound walking on Blackfoot territory? What does it mean to walk on this land as an uninvited guest?

Benny Nemer. The Last Song. Installation Shot. Images courtesy of Galt Museum & Archives | Akaisamitohkanao’pa

Benny Nemer’s The Last Song was of particular interest to me from my perspective as a trans man. A screen plays a video of a bald figure who sings – or seems to sing – Vivaldi’s La Verità in Cimento. The performer begins in a baritone and then undergoes a series of warbling breakages as the voice transitions into a soprano. The moment is prolonged and uncomfortable. I am reminded of that feeling of visceral in-betweenness when my voice suddenly changed as part of testosterone treatment. In the video, the performer’s face smooths into exaltation, triumphant in its passing as a different voice altogether. Is this the same singer producing these sounds or are these multiple voices seamlessly edited together? Is the figure the singer at all or are they lip-syncing? Is the singer trans?

Standing before the video, a sweet, musky scent envelopes the viewer/listener, compelling one to look for its source. In a vase on a plinth, a single purple lily gazes back, visually and olfactorily elegant, robust. A quote in French from trans queer theorist Paul B. Preciado is imprinted fancily on the wall alongside the ephemeral lily. In the quote, Preciado describes the experience of a transitioning voice as “a vibration which spreads in my throat as if it was a recording coming out of my mouth.” Though the didactics fall short of overtly saying so, transness importantly appears in this work not as a gender identity but as a sound, a song. The voice’s transition eludes binary linearity and becomes a composition of sensory information, a fleeting act one hears, smells, and feels. This auditory queerness becomes something not unique to trans experience, but an aural interpretation of transition that, if you think about it, can occur to anyone at any point in one’s life.

The Politics of Sound. Opening Reception. Images courtesy of Galt Museum & Archives | Akaisamitohkanao’pa

A trumpet that is also a bayonet, a clarinet with a sniper scope, a music box grenade that plays a song once when the pin is pulled: these are Maskull Lasserre’s Tools for A Second Eden. Fully functioning instruments that are also weapons, these sculptural objects are displayed at the ready, as if they might be deployed to the battlefield at a moment’s notice. Complete with their own custom-made hard-shell cases and mission directives – dossiers containing sheet music for various national anthems and documentation of musicians/soldiers performing with the instruments in situ – Lasserre’s instruments of war are beautiful and frightening. While impressive on their own, Lasserre’s works take on a second layer of importance through their shared staging with historical objects. A display of policing and firefighting equipment (a megaphone, a whistle, speed radars, a steam whistle, and a fire bell) from Lethbridge’s archive brings home the idea of sound as a tool for social ordering and control. One can’t help but ask the same questions of the historical objects as one did of Lasserre’s Tools for A Second Eden: What is it for? Who is it for? Is it dangerous? Interestingly, these are questions one does not always ask of art, but because of the context of a history museum, these questions seem inevitable.

Set apart from the rest of the exhibit, jamilah malika abu-bakare’s audio/photo installation listen to Black women (II) + offerings (III) is a striking space to walk into. An intricately woven mixscape of Black womens’ voices tumbles down from a directional speaker suspended overhead, including the voices of Keke Palmer, Rihanna, Angela Davis, Amara La Negra, Jully Black, and Azealia Banks. I sit on the bench and listen to them precisely speak about their lived realities of racism, sexism, injustice, and invisibility. It is uniquely important to listen to abu-bakare’s speechscape of Black women’s voices in Lethbridge, Alberta, at a time when white voices are actively co-opting the words “freedom” and “free speech” to advance racist agendas. On the walls surrounding the listening space for listen to Black women (II), offerings (III) is displayed as composites made of repeating posters with black and white macro images of jamilah malika abu-bakare’s skin, which visitors are invited to take. I turn one over to find the words of Jully Black:

“whatever you’re feeling
take it to the altar
cause i’m not the one
that’s responsible for
your feelings.”

For us here on Treaty 7 Blackfoot Territory, these last few weeks have called into question the responsibilities of cultural and educational institutions as sites of speech and discourse production. To insist on making space for critical BIPOC and LGBTQS2+ voices speaking to issues of race, gender, Indigenous sovereignties, surveillance, and nationalism continues to be a necessary and radical act. Fostering and protecting such spaces is particularly important in cities like Lethbridge that serve as cultural hubs for rural communities and small towns. Tyler J Stewart’s polyvocal curatorial approach presents questions of sound, speech, power, and relation through creative works which operate in multiple accessible registers. Through the artists’ works, sound as a discourse commodity is queered, no longer a weapon, but rather a series of aural spaces that resist further colonization and co-optation. Sound can be experienced as an expression of question-asking and relation-seeking, and not as hate speech staged by speakers who refuse to take accountability for their own words.

Slip Away in The Flickering: Gretchen Bender’s IMAGE WORLD

Installation View of TV Text & Image series, 2023. Photo by Pei-Shin Hung. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers, London.

Sprüth Magers, London

February 3 – 25 March, 2023

By Crystal Li

The walls of CRT monitors broadcasting live television incessantly set you up to an optical battlefield. Without the accompanying soundtracks, your sense of sight is unprecedentedly amplified, generating hyper sensitivity and attention to what comes to your eyes. Welcome to IMAGE WORLD at Sprüth Magers, London, the gallery’s first solo exhibition for Gretchen Bender.

Image World presents Bender’s significance as a ‘guerrilla’ to the Pictures Generation, anchoring her critical edge over television as a rivalling numerator to media culture, politics, and society. “I thought in the early 80s you guys had done such important work on the print media—the photograph. And it seemed like the next area to similarly deconstruct was television,” she said in a 1987 interview with Cindy Sherman. All exhibited works use live television streams or clips as the source material and vary by the ascending level of intervention and editing.

When TV Text & Image series on the ground floor has meticulously chosen, mostly politicized phrases applied to the screens to superimpose over the images, Aggressive Witness – Active Participant, 1990, on the first floor follows in addition with a sinister soundtrack and a computer-generated undulating white line graphics coming from four of the twelve monitors. Wild Dead, 1984, in the final room, radiates a sci-fi colour to the assemblage of monitor, graphics, and sound. Here, Bender juxtaposes the aggressive, pulsating montage of computer-generated motion graphics and appropriated news clips of missile firing and corporate idents with a synthetic soundtrack of yelps and gunshots, commencing her signature type of installation characterized by stacked monitors and fragmented audio-visuals, titled ‘Electronic Theaters.’

Installation View of TV Text & Image series, 2023. Video by Crystal Li. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers, London.

These works are Bender’s embodied investigation of how the people at her time simultaneously consumed and were consumed by the mainstream media when the then-now cultural landscape was encroached upon by corporate power. Now, television has already dissolved into handy smart gadgets seemingly advancing for more autonomous and individualistic browsing and streaming. These ‘media-oriented artworks’ from the 80s-90s are now in their fate of ‘a temporal limit to its meaningfulness in the culture’ predicted (and accepted) by Bender, also in her interview with Sherman. In this sense, how differently can we re-read her works at Sprüth Magers in 2023 to restore their strength in the present tense?

“I’ll mimic the media—but I’ll turn up the voltage on the currents so high that hopefully, it will blast criticality out there,” Bender declared the mimicking of structure as her infiltrating tactic to scrutinize and criticize the mass media.  She is both an insightful observer and an ingenious constructor of experience. Viewing Bender’s works aside from the recurring interpretation of corporate-thick content particularly striking in the 80s, puncturing them purely by our on-site viewing experience allows us to rejuvenate her works in today’s algorithm-heavy media landscape.

Aggressive Witness – Active Participant, 1990. Photo by Crystal Li. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers, London.

Rather than delving into the well-explored sense of overload in her by-now-signature ‘theatrical exposition of multiple channels’, as evoked in Wild Dead, the illusionary visual effects of disappearing and collapsing only available to in-the-gallery viewing fiercely capture both my eyes and my mind. In TV Text & Image series and Aggressive Witness – Active Participant, the all-caps phrases in black vinyl text stamped center-screen only reveal themselves to the viewers upon closer examination. Otherwise, they disappear into the moving images beneath. Our attention to the phrases in reverse does dilute the live television broadcasts at the back but very often, we are distracted by the ceaselessly fleeting images and ‘blind’ to the phrases upholding political importance. While I was there, PEOPLE WITH AIDS faded into teleshopping when HOMELESS lost to a talk show re-run. The optical illusion of disappearing further aggravates into collapsing. Our sole focus on one screen triggers the flickering of screens surrounding, except the four playing computer-generated geometric graphics. If not being watched or contentless, both the phrases and the moving images of the remaining screens slip away in the flickering.

Bender’s manipulation of our retina resembles the hegemonic nature of every public space, as put forward by Chantel Mouffe in Which Public Space for Critical Artistic Practices? ‘public spaces are always striated and hegemonically structured.’ The spotlight is always exclusively occupied, expelling the others out of the beam of light because public attention is forever limited. Technological transformations in the past decades have usurped television’s dominance, in which social media has replaced mass media and arisen as one of the most heated public spaces. In the explosion of content, competition ‘to be seen’ is no longer natural when it is heavily charged by algorithms — social media’s closest ally. In the digital domain, visibility establishes a marker of recognition and validity.

The gaze on social media is channelled by algorithms, which feeds back ‘the visible’ with more exposure in a close circuit, eventually trapping us in filter bubbles. It is how one’s current interest in fashion and cosmetics automatically closes the gate for her to ANTI-APARTHEID, NUCLEAR WARHEADS SEX PANIC, etc, and in return ‘rewards’ her with more exposure to tempting content on beauty. An algorithm, as a personalized searching configuration, is indeed an arbitrary, rigid programming pre-emptively rejecting alternativity and possibility on our account. Not only does algorithmic visibility deprive our right to a conscious selection, but it also strangles/restricts the digital living space of all visual content along with their embedded discourses and ideologies. 

“We need to stay alert to the political implications of the conceptual evolutions of our newer technologies,” Bender’s cautionary reminder is timeless. Inside Sprüth Magers, the option of what to watch is still entirely available to us. Yet, in reality, the algorithmically sorted social media has quietly cancelled out the option by fixating/narrowing our eyes to only what it thinks we should see. What will slip away in the flickering has already been dictated, yet, in the name of us.

Zanele Muholi: The Celebration of Black LGBTQIA+ Identity

Installation view of the exhibition Zanele Muholi, National Gallery of Iceland, 2022. Courtesy the museum and the artist.

October 15, 2022 – February 12, 2023
National Gallery of Iceland
Laufásvegur 12, 101 Reykjavik

By Irene Bernardi

After the last large exhibition at Tate Modern in London, Zanele Muholi presents their works at the National Gallery of Iceland in Reykjavik in collaboration with the English museum. Born in Umlazi in Durban, South Africa, Muholi is a visual activist whose focus of their works is to tell the stories of Black [1]LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) lives in South Africa and beyond. All the photos are as unique and special as their connection with the community. Curated by Harpa Þórsdóttir, Vigdís Rún Jónsdóttir, and Yasufumi Nakamori, the exposition counts more than 100 photographs together with video, poster, and documentation about the work of Muholi and the history of apartheid in South Africa.

On the first floor, three ongoing projects are hosted in the principal room. Somnyama Ngonyama (2012-) is a series of self-portraits where Muholi explores the politics of race and its representation. The portraits are photographed in different locations around the world with a focus on talking about the racist gaze; in every shoot, the artist uses objects, materials, and clothes to demonstrate the violence and harmful representation of Black people. The titles of the work “Somnyama Ngonyama” remain in Zulu, Muholi’s first language which means “Hello, Black Lioness”: the title is meant to reclaim their language and identity which is the mirror of Muholi’s activism.

In Nowalzi II, Nuoro, Italy (2015) Muholi narrates the “pencil test”: this was a dehumanizing practice devised to assist the South African government in racial classification under apartheid. When authorities were unsure if a person should be classified as white, a pencil would be pushed into the hair. The person “passed” and was “classified” as white if the pencil didn’t stick in the hair and if it was straight rather than curly, kinky, or coily. Muholi’s gaze is looking at the visitors as if to say “I am here. I can’t be in another place. I am Black, I am who I am, and you must have respect for me.”

Zanele Muholi. Nowalzi II, Nuoro, Italy, 2015. Gelatin silver print on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

In the artist’s shoots, the gaze, the eye, and the power are an important “red thread.” In Faces and Phases (2006 -) Muholi captures more than 500 pictures to celebrate, commemorate and archive the lives of Black lesbians, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Many of these photos are the result of a long and sustained relationship and collaboration, where the main intention is to create an archive of faces and the phases of the changing in their life: memories, stories, aging, education, work experience, and marriage. During the installation, the museum and the artist decided to leave a few white spaces on the wall to remember the people that took part in the project and passed away.

Faces and phases (2006-) Installation view of the exhibition Zanele Muholi, National Gallery of Iceland, 2022. Courtesy of the museum and the artist.

When we are standing in front of these two big artworks, around us there is no silence because we can “feel” an imperceptible sound, caused by the looks of Muholi and the people they have met that speak to us. They have been watching for too long in silence and suffering from the violence and discrimination due to their existence, for being who they are. The black and white of the photos vibrate, like their eyes that communicate their will to speak.

Muholi was born in 1972 during the height of apartheid in South Africa. On the second floor, a room is focused on the particular contexts from which artists’ work emerges and remains deeply rooted: books, fanzines, videos, photos, and posters describe and tell the history of the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa. A timeline helps the visitors to understand and highlight the new era of democracy after apartheid that ended in 1994. We can also see some pictures from Only Half the Picture (2002–2006) that document survivors of hate crimes living across South Africa and its Townships. Under apartheid, Townships were established as residential areas for those who had been evicted from places designated as ‘white only.’ Muholi captures the people who experienced this pain and hatred with images of intimacy, expanding the narrative beyond victimhood.

Zanele Muholi. Aftermath 2004. Courtesy of the artist.

The last room houses the projects Brave Beauties (2014 -) and some images from Queering Public Space. These photos are related to each other since both present a series of portraits of trans women, gender non-conforming and non-binary people, many of whom are beauty pageant contestants. Muholi is inspired by fashion magazine covers; all the clothes, poses, and accessories are decided together, with the subjects portrayed. Many of the images are taken on the beach in Durban: the artist has continuously photographed Brave Beauties participants on the beach, in particular the beauty queen Melissa Mbambo. Melissa is a trans woman who won the title of Miss Gay South Africa in 2017. During apartheid, she was racially segregated, and photographing her on the beach is a way of reclaiming this space.

Brave Beauties (2014-) Installation view of the exhibition Zanele Muholi, National Gallery of
    Iceland, 2022. Courtesy the museum and the artist.       

This exhibition does not present ‘mere’ pictures or portraits of people. This exhibition is a giant manifesto of existence, of the freedom to be alive and to have a happy and long life. This concept is very clear in Muholi’s mind: “Every person in the pictures has a story to tell, but many of us come from spaces where most Black people never had that opportunity. If they did, their voices were told by other people. No one can tell our story better than ourselves”[2].

Zanele Muholi studied at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, and the Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson University, Toronto), co-founder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, and founder of Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual media. They are also an honorary professor at the University of the Arts Bremen, in Germany.

The MUDEC – Museum of Cultures in Milan, will host the next Muholi exhibition “A Visual Activist. Muholi” from March 31 to July 30, 2023.

[1] Sarah Allen, Yasufumi Nakamori, Zanele Muholi exhibition book, Tate Modern, 2021

[2] Zanele Muholi, ZANELE MUHOLI, Tate Modern 2021, London (UK),

What Do We Discard? Specimen by Susan Low-Beer

Specimen by Susan Low-Beer. Riverbrink Art Museum. Image Courtesy of the artist.

September 10, 2022 – January 21, 2023

RiverBrink Art Museum

By Lera Kotsyuba

Susan Low-Beer’s ceramic sculptures are uncanny forms that play with the tension between anxiety and care. Travelling across Canada, the exhibition Specimen transforms in each iteration. At the RiverBrink Art Museum in Ontario from September 2022 to January 2023, Specimen, curated by Sheila McMath, shows Low-Beer’s ceramics meld into a quasi-domestic space. Their forms recall organs that drape over industrial forms that are a cold substitution for domestic objects of home, a bed, or a table. The discomfort apparent in rest denotes unease, and the forms, between frail organs and technological refuse, link to our anxieties about aging.

The title, Specimen, recalls a cabinet of curiosities of observation, not the clinical study of medical precision but as objects of fascination, inviting closer observation to make meaning. The exhibition embraces humour and the absurd through the familiar made strange. The uncanny nature of organic forms meeting industrial elements is displayed through the tubes and ovoid shapes to the draped ceramic forms to their rigid grid surface patterns and metal assemblage elements. The works invite closer inspection by pointedly asking the viewer to lean into their discomfort, embrace the absurd and disquieting forms, and contemplate age and decay in the Anthropocene in an era of mass waste.

Specimen by Susan Low-Beer. Riverbrink Art Museum. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Walking through the RiverBrink Museum of Art, the space itself seems caught between two worlds, that of a domestic space and a museum. Walking on polished floors in the Georgian-style building, you’re momentarily transported to a liminal space, a space outside of time. Coming upon the gallery space, the rectangular room is adorned with simple wood panelling and an assortment of small tables from different eras arranged throughout the room, the assemblage of draped and balanced ceramic objects adds to the uncanny feeling evoked by the space, both familiar and alien at the same time. The sculptures are ovoid and organ-like, with fibulae and tubes protruding from grid-patterned forms that are not quite organic, recalling metallics and plastics. The ceramic forms are glazed matte or with a high sheen, and the feeling of unease shifts to anxiety where you’re unsure if you’re standing in a medical refuse facility or an industrial scavenging ground. They may be interpreted as curiosities, their half-familiar forms inviting closer inspection. Without the framework of encased forms behind glass, the ceramics are still arranged for display, inviting the viewer’s gaze.

Glossa (2018) is a long ovoid ceramic shape with two tubes extended, searching for something, the form cradled on a stained pillow as if in a hospice. The object rests on a dresser, yet the uncanny organic form’s placement denotes care and the eerie notes of medical decay, a triage of care for an object past its prime. Although a closer look does not resolve the tension, the broken and deflated forms in the exhibition denote a fragility, a slow decay, whether technological or organic is a matter of perspective.

Susan Low-Beer. Ocellus. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Susan Low-Beer’s ceramics have shifted from figurative to abstract, the forms of Specimen are therefore able to convey anxieties that suffuse our age: from aging to climate disaster and mass waste, but not without a humorous touch. Ocellus (2018) is a ceramic ovoid with two protrusions, once the interior of something either organic or industrial. The dark glaze and purposeful patching elicit the understanding that an object’s lifetime of use has shaped the wear apparent on its surface. Balanced on a half-moon wood plinth with a do-it-yourself aesthetic of rough assembly, the sculpture sits on top of a polished dark wood table, in contrast with the cement blocks it rests on. The stacking of disparate objects adds humour to the display, easing the tension of clear meaning, encouraging the viewer to embrace the absurd. Low-Beer’s sympathetic gestures, of patching and the readymade plinths, are acts of care for the aged techno-organic form. Rather than a nihilistic bent, Low-Beer encourages humour as the connective thread of the world evoked by her work. There are no clear answers or solutions, but rather than seeking a resolute finality of meaning, she invites us to share a collective experience of uncertainty, and maybe even embrace it.

In Mammilla (2018), two ovoid ceramic forms are linked from within, recalling a symbiotic relationship. An act of care, their connection tube is draped over the other form as if in an embrace, while grey matter pools below. The grid-patterned surface and matte grey and blue glaze with overlaid clay seams gesture to the discard of industry, the plea for care of one form to another, and gestures to an organic tableau. The worn and aged surface once again recalls the age of the forms, their original use disguised by their removal from their original context, yet the ceramics show the maker’s hand in their patched forms, clay smoothed over long-mended wounds.

Susan Low-Beer. Mammilla. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Comb-Plate (2018), made of a ceramic ovoid with two protrusions placed on a woodblock, abstractly looks like an automaton that has fallen on the stairs. The absurdist humour contrasts with the disquiet of discard, whether organic or industrial remains unresolved. Wood and metal chairs, concrete slabs, and hollow wood trunks unsettle the observer, creating the tension between the plinth and artwork, to question where the work ends, and the display object begins. The exhibition offers no respite from the disquieting familiarity of objects, at once domestic and commercial, organic and industrial, clay and metal, art and curiosity, humour and absurdity are the common links.

Low-Beer’s ceramics are transformed in every iteration of the exhibition, domestic furniture unique to this iteration of the exhibition, the ovoid forms shifting the understanding of the gallery space they occupy. The tension between discard and decay and the apparent care of mending instills unease in the visitor. Rather than a finite meaning, can we learn to embrace uncertainty and humour as a form of connection? The exhibition prompts us to consider our relationship to objects and ourselves, to consider the ways and circumstances in which we extend care, and what we discard.

I know about hidden things by Juliane Foronda

“…between two beings across great distance.”

Juliane Foronda. I know about hidden things exhibition view.
Images courtesy of the artist and Trinity Square Video. Photography by Darren Rigo.

January 7 — February 19, 2022

Trinity Square Video

By Katie Lawson

Those who are a part of artistic communities and actively participate in the work of the artist, curator, or critic, know very well that the presentation of one’s work is merely the tip of the iceberg when below the surface of the water is a matrix of relationships that inform the ‘final’ product.

I know about hidden things is a collaborative project initiated by writer and curator Letticia Cosbert Miller which foregrounds Filipina-Canadian artist Juliane Foronda’s ongoing research concerning feminist hospitality, radical care, and traditions of gathering. The exhibition took place at Trinity Square Video in Toronto from January 7—February 19, 2022, yet lives on through its accompanying publication, an art object in and of itself. Foronda and Cosbert Miller invited Danica Evering, Camille Georgeson-Usher, Karina Griffith, and Ronald Rose-Antoinette to become entangled in the process of the exhibition’s making, meeting regularly in the development of the work. Each collaborator would produce contemporaneously a text to accompany the work, not as didactic works of criticism but as a manifestation of a network of relationships based on symbiosis. The artworks in the exhibition consider the role of physical, emotional, and ephemeral support structures, the concealed labour of care and hospitality in spaces and so-called inanimate objects. The texts that make up the printed edition become a support structure for the visitor, a generous gesture that welcomes the reader into a collective dialogue.

I know about hidden things, publication materials. Photo by Katie Lawson.

This approach to publication embodies feminist practices of lateral citation: to cite one’s peers, friends, cohort, and colleagues rather than citing upwards, towards a hierarchy of ‘legitimized’ scholarship, making visible the de-centered labour within artistic communities that so often goes unrecognized in the ‘final’ presentation of exhibitions or artworks. The printed edition that accompanied the show compels me to think about publication as a form of democratic dissemination, which opens this network of relationships to those who in turn hold and care for and think alongside an artist, curator, or critic. The texts are packaged in a sculptural bundle, with each writer’s contribution taking a distinct design, material quality, and typographic form. What holds this bundle together is a thoughtfully folded shell, which has the primary descriptive exhibition text and checklist on it in an embossed pink that I found myself running my hands over as I walked around the gallery with it in my hands. Foronda’s work becomes the literal and figurative container or carrier bag for the contributions held within.

I was struck by a phrase in Ronald Rose-Antoinette’s contribution that points towards an atmosphere diffused through a workshop held by Foronda, “the function of which is to betray the totality power wants us to recite.” Power might be understood as predicated on notions of totality and singular authorship, ways of working that are rejected even within the context of what is ostensibly a solo exhibition for the artist, sharing that space with those deeply engaged in the process of its very making. Rose-Antoinette’s ‘Support the Notes’ is a series of poetic fragments that dance across double-sided peach paper, with a deep yet vibrant blue serif text. It feels atmospheric and ethereal, with a level of subtlety embodied in two of Foronda’s works that, in particular, speak softly: magic hour and valuable and flawed. magic hour consists of two barely-there projections of past light rainbows, aimed at the infrastructural supports of the TSV space, reminiscent of the reflections of light that might dance across a room with the shifting sun. valuable and flawed uses small quantities of wood, paper, stone, and tape which take the form of makeshift wedges in the minor space between the floor and the base of the eastern wall. These two works draw the eye around the architecture of Trinity Square Video, with its tactile delights and quirks as a post-industrial space with historic resonances. How is the space of the gallery its own structure of support?

Juliane Foronda. magic hour, 2021. video projector installation, images of past light rainbows
Images courtesy of the artist and Trinity Square Video. Photography by Darren Rigo.

One can feel held by a space or a place, after all, as Camille Georgeson-Usher reminds us in ‘On being elsewhere – these archives of guilt.’ Perhaps the most narrative in form of the text contributions, she describes the embodied experience of returning home, to Galiano Island, and how that immersion allows her to feel deeply across time, deep time, feeling the remnants of care from ancestors in the trees, the water, and air. Across this long, narrow yellow paper, which folds down into a square, Georgeson-Usher wonders how to contend with feelings of guilt, getting lost, and displacement. Questions of reciprocity arise in reading this work alongside Foronda’s exhibition. If a place, a space, or a so-called inanimate object can provide and impart care, who cares for them in return?

The spoon is an object that Foronda returns to in her practice and finds its way into the exhibition through unit of measure, a series of plaster casts from the concave bowl of spoons. More specifically, spoons that were used during a residency at MeetFactory in Prague in Fall 2021. Their smooth, ambiguous forms rest on a low lying plinth painted the same soothing peach tone as the feature wall of the gallery. The spoon in its shape and function is not so different from using one’s own hands in sharing and consuming a meal, a practice that is common outside of Western dining traditions. Beneath the surface of this work, I am reminded of how place settings can carry colonial coding and inscriptions of race and class. Karina Griffith’s Did you lay the table? Yes, I set the table consists of a pale manila, single-sided half sheet of paper with deep purple sans serif text, a series or list of eighteen ‘rules embedded into traditions of drinking, dining, and hosting.

Juliane Foronda. unit of measure, 2021. plaster casts of the concave of spoons.
Images courtesy of the artist and Trinity Square Video. Photography by Darren Rigo.

Danica Evering offers a series of text fragments, which literally unfold across the many-paneled, accordion-creased paper, which when collapsed fits in the palm of the hand, much like Foronda’s spoon casts. In one panel, Evering wonders how the ephemeral becomes solid, how “plaster makes this archive tender.” The vibrant green text on soft grey paper draws in quotes from Eugenie Waters, Mark Clintberg, Jennifer Doyle, and Tegan Jones, serving as a further expansion of the matrix of relationships held within this project. This contribution takes up aspects of Foronda’s work most literally or explicitly, as aspects of the exhibition come in and out of focus—the false sense of security given by the examination table paper, a direct response to the work coping mechanisms, and questions of harm and harm reduction. There is only one panel that has the text rotated 90 degrees to the left which strikes me as an outlier, and it reads: “between two beings across great distance.”

I have to remind myself that I know about hidden things went from concept to realization during a time of pandemic and isolation, with Foronda, Cosbert-Miller, Rose-Antoinette, Griffith, Georgeson-Usher, and Evering working virtually across great distances. It is no small feat that their collaboration feels so intimate and deeply connected. There is a warmth and tactility to both the exhibition and the publication that draw the visitor in, much like a good host. Is feminist hospitality an attempt to close or narrow that distance between us?

I feel compelled to mention my own personal connection with Foronda, who I feel very grateful to have had in my life as a friend and peer over the last six years. We met just before she moved to Iceland for her MFA, and what would follow was a period of writing one another lengthy emails and letters that moved between the personal and professional. We would send what others might deem the ‘scraps’ of our day-to-day life across oceans as a part of our growing ongoing long-distance kinship—rocks, dried flowers, transit stubs, and exhibitions pamphlets scrawled with notes, home-mixed spice blends, confetti, stickers, pins, postcards, a carefully selected stamp, a packet of dehydrated sourdough starter. We are both collectors, or hoarders, of curious objects and thoughts. I have been grateful to move between guest and host in this enduring exchange, and I can’t help but imagine the many copies of the I know about hidden things publication existing out in the world, a gift and care package from Foronda. In a part of a recent interview in Contemporary Art Stavanger, a quote from Foronda has stayed with me, that captures the ethos behind her practice, this project, and an unending process of being in relation has stayed with me: “The research alone will only go so far if it’s not shared.”[1]

[1]Foronda, Juliane. “Interview: Juliane Foronda” Contemporary Art Stavanger, November 23, 2021.

You can also find this review in the second print issue of Femme Art Review on Queer and Feminist Collaboration.

Bridge Obscura, a Portal to Iranian Community

Bridge Obscura by Shahrzad Amin. Installation photo. Photo by Shahrzad Amin, courtesy of the artist.

To You, From Me, For Us

May 30th – August 15th, 2022

Ignite Gallery

By Ignazio Colt Nicastro

My steps into Ignite Gallery were met with soothing sounds of retreating waves, a euphony of avian calls, and a rich Iranian voice as it sang throughout the gallery. These varying sounds drew me in deeper through this group exhibition To You, From Me, For Us, by multidisciplinary artists: Elyse Longair, Mohammed Tabesh, Atanas Bozdarov, Cailin Doherty, Ante Kurilic, and Shahrzad Amin. Collectively, this exhibition spoke to each artists’ lived diasporic experiences, forming a cultural exchange of war, disability, immigration, and environmental degradation. For Shahrzad Amin, this became an opportunity to connect herself, and others, to the people of Isfahan, Iran via her installation, Bridge Obscura. This multi-sensory homage houses historical references and iconography from Iran while showcasing contemporary examples of what it means to live within the community of this Iranian city. 

To You, From Me, For Us Installation photo. Photo by Shahrzad Amin, courtesy of the artist.

After following the rhythmic hymns inspired by the Persian poet, Hafez, viewers meet with the physicality of this audio, visual, and tangible installation. Atop a thick black plank, three rows of carved plywood stand firmly ahead of a video projection. Each archway comprised the underside foundation of this bridge that Amin created to extend our Toronto plane into a nostalgic, exploratory, and sensory ethnographic representation of Iran.

Amin invites viewers to step inside the bridge where they first pass under fine engravings along the archway. Upon closer inspection, one will note the tessellation of geometric symbols that are inspired by the star-and-cross design, an emblem that pre-dates the advent of Islam. The intricate engraving is also fused with floral and arabesque patterns and overall is a symbolic representation of the past and present. In some ways, as viewers pass under these engravings they activate the potential of this bridge, this portal, that allows them to transcend time and space. Viewers’ eyes are drawn through the archways that echo through the veil that is Amin’s film, which consists of video and sound compilations taken in Isfahan.

Bridge Obscura by Shahrzad Amin. Installation photo. Photo by Shahrzad Amin, courtesy of the artist.

Throughout this 11-minute film, viewers start at the Khaju Bridge before entering the Boostan Ayineh Khaneh Park. The camera guides viewers through the crowds of Isfahan until they arrive at the Allah-Verdi Khan Bridge. It’s quickly recognized that in every moment of this film, the essence of community is not monolithic and is widespread among the city’s people. Amin presented these various acts of community through the shared acoustic ecology of joyous singers under bridges, free-spirited dancing in the streets, and the act of sharing meals with friends, family, and strangers. This synthesis of personal, cultural, and affective levels of care shown in her community allowed Amin to further develop a bond with her audience.

As an immigrant from Isfahan, Amin tapped into her childhood memories to create this visual experience. The blurred motions of passersby mimic popular media cues that suggest slowed time and flashbacks. By utilizing her auditory and ocular memories, Amin has inserted a sense of nostalgia in this film that resonates with Iranian viewers. Though Bridge Obscura is meant to connect the people of Canada to those in Iran, it is largely a homage to Amin’s first home.

Bridge Obscura is a portal that ties viewers to Iran physically, metaphorically, and emotionally, as Iranian geography, history, and culture act as the foundation of the piece. Bridges play a critical role in the history of Iran as they were connectors between civilizations along trade routes. The engravings in Bridge Obscura specifically speak to a deeper history in Iran. With inspiration from the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, Amin has extended the Perso-Islamic architecture designs into her work. Designs such as these were common in Iran’s block printing, which has been used for centuries on fabric and cloth for Qalamkar.

Bridge Obscura by Shahrzad Amin. Installation photo. Photo by Shahrzad Amin, courtesy of the artist.

Many guests who are not Iranian may not pick up on these historic and cultural traces, but withstanding, Amin has cultivated this thread of humanity that all viewers can resonate with. The exhibition title itself, To You, From Me, For Us, suggests that the artists are bringing forward their lived experiences for viewers to learn from, but ultimately this act is for their communities. The Iranian diaspora who view Amin’s work will now resurrect and access their memories of home while reflecting on their stories beneath the bridges amongst the isolationism in Iran.

At its core, Bridge Obscura counters the isolationism which has been imposed upon Iran’s everyday citizens via internal and external political factors. Though Amin’s practice has overtly worked against being guided by political discourse, these discussions around everyday life in Isfahan urge us to remain vigilant to the current crisis Iranian women and people are facing in response to the tragic killing of Mahsa Amini. Internally, political bodies segregated Iranian’s from the rest of the world through the prohibition of internet access and the jailing of educators, journalists, and protestors. Externally, media outlets ignored the demands for help until our voices were too loud for them to dismiss. This concept of isolationism is now being challenged as people across the globe rally together to chant ‘Woman, Life, Freedom,’ a courageous act of community that stemmed from the women and people of Iranian diaspora. Bridge Obscura not only connects people to Iranians but also displays how sentiments of community can be shown through more than love and kindness, but also anger and fear. As a child, Amin witnessed community through the street life of Isfahan. As an adult, she witnesses it as the unification of people inside and outside of Isfahan standing together for justice.

There is irony in Amin’s choice of using a bridge to portray this message, as bridges have a specific use of connecting people and things that have been separated. This installation acknowledges Amin’s distance from home while simultaneously connecting her, and others, to it. It reminds her that even amidst the isolationism back home, moments of tenderness, care, and love can be found. Bridge Obscura does not exclusively exist for Amin to hold on to this reminder, it is also for the citizens of Iran and everyone around the world.