Art review: 'Poison' and 'Post Erotica' at Penn Galleries
From poison to postpartum depression, two exhibits, side by side in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's 707 and 709 Galleries, tackle some tough issues.
On display at 707 Gallery, “Poison” was born from a desire of the exhibit's organizer, Sean Beauford of Mansfield, Ohio, to present a collection of work that his generation could relate to, depicting an issue that his generation deals with.
“Drug abuse, especially among youth, isn't something that I feel is taken seriously enough or talked about enough. It's glorified, it's shamed, and that's pretty much it,” Beauford says.
Beauford, 28, also wanted to touch on specific poisons, such as crack cocaine, malt liquor and menthol cigarettes.
“In black and urban communities, drug abuse and the results of it are mostly written off by the masses as a ‘their problem' sort of thing,” he says. “What Tupac Shakur wrote over 20 years ago, ‘Give the crack to the kids, who the hell cares; one less hungry mouth on the welfare,' is sadly still relevant. It's like people are fine with standing by and watching fellow Americans get wiped out.”
Featuring work by six artists from around the country, as well as Beauford himself, the exhibit features different takes on drug and alcohol abuse.
For example, “Crack Map” by LinShuttr of Queens, N.Y., was inspired by the thought of having a locator to find the next fix. “It's like in cartoons how when they'd follow a map, you'd see the dashes move on the screen,” Beauford says. “It's a bit of satire, which LinShuttr does well.”
Two pieces by Amani Davis of Point Breeze, “Newport Pleasure” and “Lethal Injection,” offer a “pick your poison” scenario, with the former depicting famous black people smoking in photos on individual cigarette packets, and the latter depicting death by lethal injection. “Lethal injection is a poison that a lot of people are OK with because it doesn't and won't affect a population they care about, which is a theme of the exhibition,” Beauford says.
All of the photographs in the exhibit are by Good Mike, a photographer from Detroit and based in Los Angeles. “I wanted to have a realistic representation of my generation's relationship with drugs, not just abstract, artistic interpretations,” Beauford says. “The images are strong, but they depict the reality of many.”
Then there is “This is Where I Come to Rest,” an installation by Beauford that he put together using pieces from the involved artists. “It's the room of a teenage boy,” he says of the piece, which, at its center, is a life-size figure planted facedown on the floor as if passed out or dead.
Beauford says the artwork featured within the installation is by an actual teenager, whose name is Mathias Heavy. “If you look at his sketchbooks, there are references to the show's subject matter, but he didn't make that for ‘Poison'; that work already existed. That just was in his head,” Beauford says.
“I wanted to show what abuse looks like in person, for those that have never seen it,” Beauford says. “On opening night, someone pulled me aside and said they experienced finding a loved one like that in those conditions and that the installation was jarring for them at first, but they appreciated it because it was necessary, and that people need to understand that it can happen to anyone. It's not a problem exclusive to one type of people.”
Next door, at 709 Gallery, “Post Erotica: The Anthropology of Motherhood” offers a visual diary of valuable experiences of being a mom.
All works are by Fran Flaherty, the manager and founder of Carnegie Mellon University School of Art's Digital Arts Studio.
“However common motherhood is, the concept of the show is a reminder of how powerful mothers are,” Flaherty says. “It is a direct message to mothers that they/we are powerful and able to influence the future by our seemingly mundane tasks of caregiving.”
“Jewels” features jewelry made from discarded breast milk encased in resin, accompanied by larger-than-life photographs of women breastfeeding.
“In trying to identify those moments in which I believe strongly shape the mother-child bond, breastfeeding is certainly one of the most tender and loving moments,” Flaherty says. “There is nothing as visceral. There are emotional, physiological changes in the bodies of the mother and child that builds a strong bond.”
The extraction and storage of breast milk is taxing; therefore, if there is any question about the integrity of the milk, it can no longer be fed to the baby and must be discarded.
Flaherty says “Jewels” has two objectives in light of this: to preserve the moments of breastfeeding and to give mothers another chance to feel the value of their milk if it's not fed to the baby.
“One of my models thanked me for including her in the show, because she said she couldn't use the milk anymore and couldn't bear to throw it out,” Flaherty says.
“#lovemylines,” a mixed-media work, depicts stretch marks above a belly button in larger-than-life detail. It was created with all mothers in mind, including the artist.
“I selfishly put this in the show because of my own postpartum depression,” Flaherty says. “Seeing my body change from a young 20-something-year-old to a postpartum body was not easy. It is especially difficult in today's woman's body-image climate. There is a strong movement now for women to not succumb to the media's influence on a woman's body image.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.