Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why (Why Can't We Live Together?)
March 4 - April 29, 2017
Saturday, March 11 from 7pm - 9pm
What do we do when the news makes us cry?
Art remains a source of solace, explanation, and surprise. In Tell Me Why, Lisa Sette Gallery’s March/April 2017 exhibit, a diverse range of contemporary artists consider our present moment of conflict, addressing narratives of difference and resentment as well as hope and beauty. The show’s title is a lyric from the 1972 Timmy Thomas recording “Why Can’t We Live Together?” which Lisa Sette calls “a beautiful lament of a song.” The song’s central question resonates throughout the show, with responses in the form of conceptually rigorous work from artists including: Enrique Chagoya, Sonya Clark, Jamal Cyrus, Binh Danh, Claudio Dicochea, Angela Ellsworth, Maximo Gonzalez, Siri Devi Khandavilli, Mark Klett, Carrie Marill, Luis Molina-Pantin, Ann Morton, Reynier Leyva Novo, Kambui Olujimi, and Charlotte Potter.
From the rollicking paintings of Claudio Dicochea, which reimagine the Colonial-era ethnographic paintings of Central and South America as modern-day pop culture operas, to Angela Ellsworth’s glistening, pearl-tipped explorations of Mormonism and feminine sexuality, the artists of Tell Me Why are connected by their fearless approach to experimentation, beauty, and political engagement, and their insistence on artwork as a means of cathartic reconciliation.
In a state of anxiety over our country’s state of affairs, painter and printmaker Enrique Chagoya took up transcendental meditation; his practice led to the Illegal Alien's Guide... series: works that take their multivalent pictorial form from the pre-Columbian codex. The codices, remarks Chagoya, contain a series of “self-portraits as ethnic stereotypes from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America among others…addressing issues of xenophobia, gender, and racism, in a style that I call 'reverse modernism.’" In these wry portraits the artist becomes a bemused and bespectacled everyman/woman navigating stereotypes of otherness, a position that Chagoya has staked out throughout his career, remarking that his work is a “conceptual fusion of opposite cultural realities that I have experienced in my lifetime.” This approach informs much of the work in Tell Me Why, as artists explore identities and cultures in conflict.
Artist Sonya Clark exhibits Unraveled Persistence, a Confederate flag meticulously deconstructed, yet even in its unraveled state projecting our nation’s most powerful symbol of divisiveness. And in a literal perspective-switch, Charlotte Potter’s Lenticular America consists of hand-engraved portraits on glass, spliced together and mounted using lenticular technology, so that, says Potter, “when viewing the work straight on the portraits... are only revealed by physically changing perspective.” Moving around the piece, the viewer glimpses the ghostly visage of Michael Brown, a young man killed in Ferguson, MO, as it shifts to a depiction of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot him.
Jamal Cyrus’ Kennedy King Kennedy triptych features excerpts from the Chicago Daily Defender newspaper’s reports on the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy. Laser-cut into Egyptian papyrus, one of the earliest known writing materials, Cyrus lends historical weight to the seemingly disposable news cycle we experience on a daily basis. Snippets recount headlines that remain difficult to decipher both literally and figuratively speaking. Each page emphasizes the victims’ involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement; implying conclusions can be drawn between the three homicides.
Statements by the late Coretta Scott King share this sentiment “It cannot be a coincidence that all three of the murdered people were actively engaged in the cause of social justice… The real threads [connecting the crimes] are embedded in the social order…”
Siri Devi Khandavilli, a Bangalore-based artist whose cast bronze sculptures mimic traditional Hindu temple figurines, will exhibit a series of the incarnations of Vishnu, each brandishing a different weapon. Khandavilli remarks “These works are about religions and their relationship with violence and need for control and power, and human brutality disguised in the name of religious duties.”
Mark Klett's Fence separating the US/Mexico border south of the Gila Mountains, May 2015 captures the existential absurdity of political effort toward division: a lone steel wall crosses a gully while around it stretches the boundless, bare, and politically indifferent geography of the desert.
Meanwhile, across the border, Venezuelan artist Luis Molina-Pantin’s Untitled (Doorbells from Mexico) / Sin título (Timbres de México) series explores his droll observations of fear and personalized security varying from house to house.
A close examination of our human condition and current political situation may be dispiriting, but for some of the artists of Tell Me Why it serves as an opportunity for deeper aesthetic engagement. Carrie Marill says of her immaculately patterned acrylic on linen canvases, “My work is about symmetry and balance and pattern, and when I reflect on that familiar visual language in terms of questioning our society, I'm often lead back to meditation in order to calm my overthinking mind… In these times a calm mind and disposition is what's needed. Repetition for me is a form of meditation, my work and meditation go hand-in-hand.”
Binh Danh, an artist who works with experimental photographic processes to capture "mortality, memory, history, landscape, justice, evidence, and spirituality,” has created portraits of Buddha statuary. When mounted in the gallery’s private central alcove, Danh’s luminous daguerreotypes become mirror-like, an occasion for reflection and contemplation. Remarks Danh, "’Buddha’ just means someone who is awakened, but there is no need to follow a spiritual path to benefit from the practice of Buddhism. One just needs to discover the everyday enlightenment. One simple meditation practice is being in the here-and-now. The daguerreotypes of...allow viewers to see themselves in the Buddha and for us to see ourselves awaken.”