“Sisyphean Justice,” Arts Fund Gallery’s current show, brings together five artists fairly new to the Santa Barbara gallery scene, with social concerns and statements to make, often dealing with racial struggles in America.
When: through March 1, 2019
Where: Arts Fund Gallery, 205C Santa Barbara St.
Gallery hours: Noon to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, Monday through Wednesday by appointment.
Information: 965-7321, www.artsfundsb.org
As art exhibition titles go, “Sisyphean Justice” brings with it some intriguing, complicated baggage, having to do with tenacity, futility, and dogged hope in the face of social and institutional pushback. Consider the plight of Sisyphus, exerting great effort on a punishing incline. Bring that image to the current group show at the Arts Fund Gallery, in which five distinctly different artists find unique and mostly understated expressive angles to address concerns and oppressive circumstances which could and does encourage much angrier artistic responses.
Mr. Claiborne, curator of the show and the sole photographer in the group, describes the exhibition theme as involving artists “utilizing various mediums to convey the resilience, resolve, and resistance necessary when communities, particularly those that are disenfranchised or marginalized, find themselves striving for justice, however hopeless the task… each of them uses their art to analyze and dissect various aspects of the human condition with the goal to empower diverse communities and ultimately create progressive social change.”
In his case, Mr. Claiborne follows a subtle route with his two simple photographic images, celebrating black life in America: clasped black hands, and an image of a black man with flowing hair from behind, an American flag worn, like a cape or a shawl, around his shoulders. With the latter image, at least two interpretations are readily available, having to do with a personal patriotism and/or American identity as fragile shield.
Two of the artists here—Eliza Ortega and Toni Scott–are presently in the prestigious MFA program at UCSB (with their work coming soon to the ever-provocative MFA show at UCSB, in June).
A social worker and artist, Ms. Ortega’s multi-disciplinary work ranges from “The Knot,” a hanging textile piece whose soft qualities and materials contrast the suggestions of clenched knotty emotion and constrictions, and, in the back corner, her “My American Flag.” Here, small torn strips of red, white and blue bedsheets traipse across the walls, virus-like, and through the fixed structures wooden boxes, implying a quest for identity in the multicultural yet race-baited nature of life in America.
Ms. Scott, whose work was previously seen at Youth Interactive on State Street, also mixes her media focus, presenting art in both two and three dimensions. The large wall facing the gallery entrance finds her larger-than-life nude female sculpture, “Eve,” a literally and symbolically white-washed emblem of “humanity origins,” flanked by metal and hydrostone busts, with three large blue abstract acrylic canvases, a watery counterpoint to the African sculptural archetypes set before them.
As she explains in a statement, Ms. Scott’s art tends to deal with “history and identity, often referencing the fraught histories and tenacity of humanity.” The Sisyphean model returns to the fore.
Matt Brown (aka MBG) also mixes media and socially-charged and history-informed messages, sometimes with a graffiti-guerilla, post-pop art sensibility. “Epidemic,” for example, is a mash-up of icons, organized while loose-around-the-edges. A yellow sad face emoji hovers in the image mix, along with wifi signal bars gone gonzo, and the phrase “The Future is Zombie.”
But a dubious past is what’s up in MBG’s “Three Fifths Compromise,” referring to a 1787 Constitutional Convention decision regarding how to count slaves in the equation making up the House of Representatives, settling on the equivalency of five slaves counting as three free men. Rather than wallow in historical imagery or documentary details, the artist turns to poetic gestures—a flag draped over a mirror evoking the power of state over enslaved individuals, on top of a roughly-painted black acrylic background.
Pieces such as this and others in the gallery remind us that, in art, sometimes simple expressive means can address weighty issues and still-unresolved social injustices and effectively stir processes of thought and reflection. A melody can be more powerful than a hammer.