BRENTWOOD — The January exhibits in the 39th Street Gallery are full of vibrant colors and musings on contemporary social and political issues.
Laura Elkins’s immense piece titled “America Selfie” and Marily Mojica’s series called “Everyday Life” address topics such as sexual assault, race, LGBT issues and women’s issues.
The exhibits opened with an artist reception on Jan. 6.
Elkin’s piece was originally commissioned by the Honors College at the University of Mississippi, where it was installed last fall. She reconfigured the piece to fit the space in the 39th Street Gallery.
“America Selfie,” which is acrylic on Tyvek, thoroughly covers a wall space that is nine feet by 43 feet.
Elkins said she views the installation “as (an) America history painting. It’s a picture of us, now and then.”
The painting references the work of multiple artists, including Picasso and Giambologna, regarding the Rape of the Sabine Women, which is a Roman myth in which Roman men abduct women from nearby regions.
The painting features Freedom, which is the bronze statue of a woman with a helmet and toga-like robe on the top of the U.S. Capitol Building.
According to the artist statement at the exhibit, Freedom “battles multiple fronts of sexual and racial domination,” including the Ku Klux Klan and a “(President Donald) Trump-inspired banana-republic dictator.”
As noted in this artist statement, the work is “a contemporary psychosexual take on history painting.”
“I had been thinking about doing some sort of history painting, and then I think after the election last year, I just felt like I needed to address so many issues,” Elkins said.
“I don’t think it’s about Trump, per se. I think he’s a symptom of America. I guess that’s what started it. I just had to address what was going on and what I’ve seen go on for quite a while before that.
“I just want people to feel it. I try to create work that scratches your eyeballs...to make you more awake.”
Eric Celarier, a local artist who attended the reception, connected the work to what he’s seen in recent headlines.
“It’s a lot of energy in that picture,” he said. “I think that the picture’s subject matter is something that is front and center right now.”
Elkins also included a selection from her “Pussy Paintings” series. The piece installed in the gallery, “Heart of Dixie (Self as Leigh)” is a self-portrait of the artist as Leigh Corfman. Corfman told The Washington Post in November that former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 14.
“America Selfie” and “Pussy Paintings” are part of Elkins’s larger series titled “Studies in Domination.”
Mojica’s exhibit consists of seven of mixed-media paintings on topics such as interracial friendships and same-sex marriage.
Mojica said she titled the exhibit “Everyday Life” because “all of those pictures that I painted have something to do, are somehow related to our everyday life.
“In everyday life, we encounter people that are different from us, (They may not) think the same, or they have different political views than us, or different social views, different values. It’s ‘Everyday Life’ because all of those things happen every day.”
Mojica said she likes her art to tell a “story,” to “talk to people.”
For instance, the painting “The Wedding” features a heterosexual interracial couple in the middle and two same-sex couples, one of which is also interracial, on either side of them.
“I started to think how the interracial couple really paved the way for the gay couple,” Mojica said. “Had the interracial couple not existed, neither the couple to the right or the left in the painting would have had the right to get married. So, I want people to think about that when they look at the painting.”
The painting is framed on the top and bottom by two broomsticks, a nod to an African wedding ceremony that involves jumping over a broom.
Mojica is drawn to the topic of people engaging with those who are different from them in everyday life “because of who I am....My parents are from the island of Puerto Rico.
I look like a black American. And yet, I don’t fit into the black American group, because I’m Hispanic.
Because I look African-American, I don’t always fit into a Latin group. I’m also 6’1”, so I’m not your traditional Latina. All those things make me think about the differences in people.”
Mojica describes herself as a “colorist,” a quality noticed by people attending the exhibit.
“It’s so colorful and vibrant, so it immediately draws me in,” said Megan Maher, a local artist.
Maher gestured to a painting, “America Weeps,” which has women of various ethnicities along with numerous textual elements, including “women are in charge of their bodies” and “Black Lives Matter.”
“I’m kind of just drawn in a little bit more to this one right now,” Maher said, “because it’s a little more political.”
John Paradiso, the curator of programs for the 39th Street Gallery, said featuring art that is political is part of the gallery’s identity.
“It’s a place where we can be a little more political, a little more adult,” Paradiso said.
“It’s really adult-focused, although we welcome families and kids. It’s really an adult gallery of maybe more conceptual, sometimes more sexual, political, things like that.”
Paradiso said the two exhibits are “very different, but some of the topics overlap. They really are colorful and heavy-duty painting.”
“America Selfie” and “Everyday Life” will be in the 39th Street Gallery until Jan. 24.