Otis College gallery summer show seeks to confront societal standards
By Beatrice Rosen
From photography and arts administration to social justice advocacy and nonprofit business, 35-year-old Jeseca Dawson fused her interests by attending the graduate Public Practice Program at Westchester’s Otis College of Art and Design from 2010 to 2012. Most recently, as a post graduate curatorial fellow at Otis’ Ben Maltz Gallery, Dawson said she was given the ideal platform to publicly showcase how such diverse interests do in fact interrelate: a gallery art show.
Glued to the Seat: Revealing Hidden Realities, a group exhibition based on retelling and revealing bigotry and stigma within society, opened June 22 at Otis’ Bolsky Gallery at 9045 Lincoln Blvd.
The show, which runs through Aug. 28 and features works by recent Otis graduates or current students, was inspired by a Claudette Colvin quote Dawson heard on television one evening – when recently asked why she resisted bus segregation on March 2, 1955 in Montgomery, Ala., Colvin replied, “I could not move, because history had me glued to the seat.”
“I loved the quote, and after hearing it my vision for the show just clicked,” Dawson says.
Dawson took “that idea of remembering where you came from and who you are” one step further by choosing six different artists who, through the guise of cultural history, traditions or past personal experience, use narrative elements to reveal hidden truths and confront deep-rooted stereotypes.
“The artists address certain issues that they feel need to be recognized, discussed, changed or understood better from a different perspective,” Dawson says. “They are issues that have always been there, but they show it in a different way that makes some people say, ‘oh, I never thought about it like that.’”
The “different way” Dawson refers to rests foundationally in the contemporary style and unconventional medium each artist utilizes to expose oppressive prejudices and provoke viewers to question sources, she says.
One artist’s photographs of long-term lesbian and gay couples in 2013 hang next to a 72-by-96-inch oil on canvas painting of an Afro-Caribbean slave sale, entitled Sale of Venus. The work plays off of Sandro Botticelli’s famous 1486 painting Birth of Venus.
Turn 180 degrees, and in the corner of the white-walled room stands a bike cruiser with red piping, a grill attached to the back, paneer baskets on the sides and two smiling mannequin heads connected by a single chrome tongue that stick out from the handlebars. Alluring, no?
Dawson also made a conscious effort to vary the mediums throughout the exhibition because she believes individuals react to particular mediums.
“Art is its own language, but within that there are different ways people understand this emotional intelligence that they can tap into,” she comments. “And I think with different mediums it reaches people in different ways.”
Rhee Hyung Min, class of 2013 with a master’s in fine arts, utilizes film as a medium to demythologize fantasy and separate it from a culture by making something unfamiliar out of things that are familiar.
Her three-minute video work entitled “Exit Plan,” playing on a small flat-screen television hanging on the far wall, consists of segmented Asian martial art clips in which people are flying or jumping out of the frame. The scenes are strikingly similar regardless of where they came from, so the video can seem recognizable to viewers, but who the figures are or what they are doing is unidentifiable, according to Min.
Min says her artistic style has evolved into “something problematically funny that happens in attempts of translating language, culture and identity” because “working while being exposed to other languages than my own changed how I make works.”
“I learned it sends a clearer message than drawing a self-portrait crushed under English alphabets,” Min added about her video work.
Jessica Minckley, also a 2013 graduate with a master’s in fine arts, was the only other artist of the six to present a video work in the exhibition. She says her work addresses feminism and its wholesale extermination in contemporary popular culture, but is also a “complicated psychological landscape about shame, denial and then forgiveness.”
The silent video, entitled “Disappear, Transitive Verb,” depicts a woman painting herself the same purple hue of the wall behind her to illustrate the disappearance of a female figure.
“As one moves through the narrative, one’s mind changes,” Minckley states. “This is all I could really ask for from my work. To show you something, only to show you that you’re not looking at what you thought you were.”
Both Min and Minckley will host a free performance and reading that is part of the exhibition on Saturday, July 13 at 2 p.m. in the Bolsky Gallery. Min will tell a fictional biography through a comedic, narrative performance, and Minckley will read aloud a writing piece of hers entitled, “Losing What You Didn’t Know You Had.”
Dawson and all six artists will also host a free gallery tour on Saturday, Aug. 24 at 12:30 p.m., which Dawson really looks forward to “because that gives me a chance to talk with people more in depth and give them a layout about the show.”
High school ceramics teacher Shelley Heffler was in one of Dawson’s previous tour groups, and says “the exhibit was well thought-out and exemplified narratives that often are glossed over by society and our culture… seeing this exhibit helped to solidify and acknowledge our own differences, and accepting them.”
“I would recommend my friends to see it, and most importantly my students,” Heffler commented. “It shows a variety of cultural perspectives and helps to open dialogue.”
If there is one thing Dawson learned from working for the Multicultural Experience in Leadership Development at Wayne State University from 1998 to 2004, she says it’s that dialogue is the starting point for change. Through the group’s monthly discussion meetings about different issues, Dawson says she “learned to explore my own biases as well as media stereotypes and undoing racism.”
Thus, when crafting her vision for the show, it was Dawson’s precise intention to choose works that instigate discussion.
According to Heffler, the six different pieces successfully do so.
Although Glued to the Seat: Revealing Hidden Realities runs for almost another two months, Dawson already wants to curate another exhibition before her fellowship at Otis ends in one year.
“I really enjoy doing them for sure, and I think keeping in vein with this idea of using my background and my experience and my interests is what I would continue to try to do because I think that’s where I can help the most,” Dawson said.
To arrange a gallery tour, (310) 846 – 2579 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, (310) 665 – 6905, or otis.edu/benmaltzgallery.