Post-9/11 artwork knits together the ‘Fabric of Fear’
DETROIT – It’s a challenge to find, but worth the work. The group exhibit “Fabric of Fear: Art After 9/11” fills three rooms at Gallery/Studio 555, a nonprofit in a former industrial building, without an identifying sign.
But locate the entry, then climb the stairs. Covering the gallery’s walls and floors are artworks that pose provocative questions about how Washington is conducting the War on Terror, about U.S. foreign policy and about underlying values generally. Many of the works are rough and raw. But all convey authentic sentiments and ideals. Viewers will be moved by the exhibit’s urgency.
In all, 13 artists, including six from Ann Arbor, have works on view. The Ann Arborites are Christy Kelly-Bentgen, Lynda Cole, Diane E. Dues, David Holtek, Monte, Brenda Oelbaum and Margaret Parker. Among the media represented are painting, sculpture, drawing. weaving, photography, installation and video art.
Oelbaum, who curated the group exhibit, is showing hand-hooked rugs from her “Axis of Evil” series. Each of the rugs is an outsize portrait of what the artist perceives as an evildoer. Saddam Hussein and Kim Jung Il are represented.
So are Dick Cheney and George Bush.
In her artist’s statement, Oelbaum notes that “Stepping on something with one’s shoes is considered among the highest forms of disrespect in the Muslim world.” So it’s no accident that her rugs are displayed on the gallery floor. By contrast, several rugs woven by Afghan refugees living in Pakistan – Oelbaum’s inspiration – hang from walls.
The Afghan rugs testify to years of armed conflict by combining maps with images of helicopters and airplanes, arrayed in neat registers. The decorative border of a “War Rug” features F15 and F16 helicopters.
Parker is showing both mixed-media pieces – they combine watercolor and oil stick passages with collage elements – and sculptures created from shredded T-shirts. “World Trade Center,” a mixed-media work, portrays the twin towers overspread with cut-out magazine images of consumer goods. According to Parker, these represent the result of our policies in the Mideast. They might also reference President Bush’s post-9/11 counsel to shop.
The T-shirt sculptures are octopus-like constructions, with tendrils extending from open, circular necks. They’re meant to show that people are torn up, not least by fundamentalist beliefs. Titles include “The Rapture” and “Paradise of 47 Virgins.”
Chrissy Conant, a New York artist, is showing the slickest work on view. It’s a professionally manufactured “Homeland Security Blanket,” imprinted with color-coded and lettered bands representing alerts. They range from “Low” through “Severe.” A flier for the exhibit includes a quote from Russian installation artist Ilya Kabakov: “Fear is the reason for making art. It is a means to freedom.”
Artists participating in the exhibit clearly have fears about the direction the nation is heading.
Yet they also have the freedom to express dissent, and are patriots for exercising it.
Gallery/Studio 555 is at 4884 Grand River Ave. (at West Warren Avenue). Hours are 6-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and by appointment. For more information, call (313) 894-4202 (313) 894-4202