When I was asked to act as Juror for the Behind the Wall exhibition at The Oak Park Art League, I knew that I would be confronted with some difficult choices regarding the content of the work. With a history of creating various approachable exhibitions addressing human rights atrocities, I was eager to explore the entries alluding to the specific topic of domestic violence. I found a variety of work filled with raw emotion and ultimately made selections that would speak to a diverse audience—work that would tell a story through emotion, generally without the use of a specific narrative. These pieces teeter at the edge of a subject that is difficult to publicly address and challenging to visually represent.
As I repeatedly reviewed the submitted imagery, I found deeply emotional mark making, tortured surfaces and fragmented figurative forms. The powerful visual elements of dripping pigment, with scratched and scared veneers—imply physical and mental abuse in a way that words can’t approach.
“Haunting Sensations” by Chloe Beltran is a wonderful example of the conceptual use of raw emotion through the layering of aggressive marks, surface manipulation and wet media dragged down by gravity. In this beautifully constructed composition, a figure emerges from darkness created by layers of scraped and scratched oil. The complimentary color palette only seems to add to the abrupt drama of the arrangement.
One of the most literal images in the exhibition, “Victim 3”, is a distressed photographic image of a child, produced by Beverly Poppe. The image presents the cold and emotionless face of a child—a witness to the atrocities of their environment. There is sorrowful honesty here—a pain that the child will carry throughout their life… a pain that may never be verbalize.
The submissions included imagery that focus on confidence, survival and empowerment. Sheila Ganch offered a multi-figurative sculpture titled “Diversity”. The piece presents a group of eight majestic female forms standing together in unity. Made of ceramic stoneware, aluminum and limestone, the figures are scared and distressed yet stand poised and confident.
Kathryn Scott’s “Her Spirit Never Leaves Her” is another example of hope. This beautiful black & white photograph presents the silhouette of a woman strolling along a waterway… emerging from shadow into the sunlight. The water flickers with glistening reflections, evoking the idea of rebirth.
The most amazing works of art have multiple interpretations as to their content. This idea holds true for all of the works included in Behind the Wall. Each piece—in some way—references the personal horrors of domestic violence, yet a positive interpretation can be construed in each. The viewer holds the key.
The exhibition opens this Friday October 14 from 7-9pm at The Oak Park Art League located at 720 Chicago Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois. The exhibition continues through November 4th.