Questions about what constitutes truth and fact are more pressing today than ever. In a post-reality world of fake news, accuracy and honesty are rare commodities. Getting to absolute truth has never been easy. Perception and reality are uncomfortable bedfellows. However, we are living in unprecedented times of unscrupulous misinformation, epitomized by those immortal words, alternative facts.
Ever since the Trump administration has taken office, we’ve been increasingly concerned about censorship, rights and freedoms. We’ve also been thinking about art’s place in the political arena and the impact art can and should have in society. At The Road Gallery, we strongly believe in the power of art to provoke reaction, ask important questions, create dialogue and inform the debate. With this is mind, we opened our Artnernative Facts Show on March 16th. It features over 60 works from 19 contemporary, diverse artists. The show portrays an alternative views of current realities and the political and social landscape.
In curating the show, I was particularly struck by the stories accompanying each piece or series of work. The artists wanted their say, even if that meant being vulnerable about the significance of their artwork. The deeply personal messages behind Ping Zheng’s paintings comes to mind.
Zheng was born and raised in China, moved to London where she completed her BA at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL and currently lives and works in New York City, having graduated with her MFA from the prestigious Rhode Island School Of Design in 2016. The three pieces featured in the show are, on the one hand, inner landscapes from Zheng’s memories of the past and present that are virginally created. The places are pure and full of magic, where she could breath and feel comfortable. Feelings of unease come from her parents’ preference for a son. In Zheng’s words, “Growing up, I experienced so many rules being a girl. My parents disliked me very much and thought the female body was dirty. In contrast to my brother, the male body was superior. I dream of a world where male and female doesn’t matter. Therefore I want to blur them in my artwork.”
While Zheng’s paintings look like one thing they mean another. The viewer can’t identify exactly what is in her paintings, but they are alive and exist in the universe. They form a part of the sky, day and night, mountains or lands, but they also purify and appear from water. All in all, the artwork straddles the line between figuration and abstraction. They are about her story and take inspiration from relationships in her personal life.
The work of Amy Tingle also reaches deep, particularly Fame Orange or How to Get Over the Like Button. This is what she shared with us about this piece:
“Sally Field stood on stage in front of a world-wide audience and shouted, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.” Fast forward not so many years and here we sit in front of our screens waiting for the blip or the bleep that tells us someone has “liked” us or has commented or has otherwise given us their stamp of approval. Sometimes I wonder if anything could feel farther from reality or the truth. Sometimes I wonder how I ever derived my self-worth before social media tracked it for me. Sometimes I wish I could hit the backspace button and return to the days of the rotary phone and passing notes in school and writing about my day (and ALL my feelings) in a Holly Hobbie diary with a tiny lock and key, on pages no one ever saw but me.”
Photographer Haylee Anne’s powerful, stirring image, There Is No Global Warming And The Earth Is Not In Pain defines an Arternative or alternative fact. Working out of Atlanta and New York City, with a BFA in Photography from Montclair State University, Haylee Anne was awarded the prestigious honor of the Excellence of Artistry Award in 2013. Her work has been seen at institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Gabarron Foundation, and around the world in New York, California, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, Spain, and France. This photograph makes a compelling call for action:
“You can ignore the earth and her pleas, her heat in February, the oil in her life water. But she remembers, she holds the dry grass and dead fish. Though you may speak alternatively, she remembers. Eventually, her memory will forget mercy, and she will take her ground back. Even then, will you consider asking forgiveness?”
In her series Dysutopia, artist Frances Segismundo explores issues of the movement of people, the refugee crisis and the ongoing dispute of the enforced travel ban. For over a year, Segismundo painted empty lots she encountered during her cycling commutes around gentrified areas in Brooklyn to narrate the inevitable movement of people. Focusing on gentrified areas, the notion of coming and going give rise to similar connotations to those immigrants who are forcefully driven away from their homes under corporate and/or political power. She illustrates empty lots amidst a structural backdrop to emphasize these bare sites that are still scattered with the small traces of human existence that once inhabited these spaces; that give a juxtaposition to the solidity of the buildings surrounding it.
Lesley Wamsley’s series, Likable, does what every great work of art should. It challenges us and raises important questions. Wamsley, who lives and works in New York City, earned her MFA from the State University of New York at New Paltz. Her work has been in national and international exhibitions and is held by the Museum of Modern Art Artists’ Book Collection, She is a professor in the Foundation Department at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
The series of drawings is titled Likable. Created during the historic and volatile 2016 Presidential Election, the imagery speaks to a particular aspect of female worth: likability. The election demonstrated unequivocally our cultural demand that women be perceived as likable. More important than education, strength, and experience, the campaign proved that the socially acceptable woman is, above all, agreeable.
In Wamsley’s words, “What I find most interesting about this sexist belief is my internalized willingness to meet its expectations. I know the pressure I feel to look and behave a particular way is the result of a sexist paradigm; and, yet, I cannot break from it. I knowingly participate in a system designed to devalue and dehumanize women. The drawings reflect this conflicted desire. They articulate a cycle that involves attention, approval and objectification. It is an brutal experience that exists under the guise of beauty. Tropes like hair, ribbons and flowers describe a feminine archetype of purity, innocence and congeniality. This description is genuinely poetic and, yet, completely cliché. The drawings strive to be pretty, they want to be liked; but there is a disquieting overtone. The objects that I draw are associated with the body and it is their separation from it that suggests violence. More still-life than portrait, the disembodied objects are arranged and displayed like trophies.”
To read more of these emotive stories and see the full collection of over 60 pieces, visit the Arternative Facts show. 10% of all sales (and 100% on some pieces) will be split across the following organizations: ACLU, Planned Parenthood and The International Rescue Committee.