Armor addresses different ways artists express concepts of bodily protection and the means by which we arm and mend ourselves physically, spiritually and emotionally. These explorations into armor uncover how structures or ideals can protect, but also fail us. The exhibition presents a contemporary take on battle armor and the protective power imbued into objects as the artists manipulate materials in response to threats they face as individuals or as communities.
There are solutions as straightforward as joining together, as in Steven Frost’s and Frankie Toan’s Denim on Denim. This work presents a united front of shields, projecting forward a uniform of denim fashioned with studs, lace and fringe that functions both as symbol of and signal to the queer community. Sammy Lee and Skyler McGee, each in very different ways, represent the strength of shared wisdom and unity of motherhood. In both bodies of work, paper and fabric stand in for skin, permeable yet protective.
Oftentimes, an expression of absurdity is the only response that is fitting to the incomprehensible offenses perpetrated among humans. Jennifer Pettus populates the exhibition with creature-like forms that vacillate between opulent beauty and the grotesque. Shields, weapons and costumes adorn the sculptures’ almost anthropomorphic forms. Ravi Zupa explores an altered reality where birds don clay pots and arm themselves, and where the strength of weapons comes from implements for writing and communication. Merritt Johnson’s video works satirize the cult of self-care while addressing oppression.
Pulling aspects of their cultural identities into their work, some artists create protection for members of their communities, bringing the focus onto the daily threats these cultures face. Merritt Johnson’s sculptural works resound with performance and ritual. These works bring forth traditional weaving and beadwork to animate armament, manifesting both beauty and strength – meticulous craft contrasted with swift aggressive action. Erika Diamond’s work expresses a hopefulness coupled with futility. Diamond’s materials, Kevlar and shattered eggshells, each evoke a sense of fragility and strength. The figures in Jaime Molina’s work change roles and shift from being the protector to the protected. Skeletons symbolize death, the great equalizer, as unshackled freedom.
Through these works that navigate the duality of vulnerability and protection, we find commonalities and complexity, wisdom and innovation, reminding us that anything is possible – defenses can be fortified, even while maintaining an openness to connection.
- Cecily Cullen, Curator
Artists in the Exhibition
Sammy Seung-min Lee
Frankie Toan & Steven Frost