Updated: Apr 1, 2021
Photos by Abigail Nilsson
BRISTOL, RI - Hanging along the walls of the Bristol Art Museum, carefully placed by Curator Elizabeth Duffy and Yoel Langonas, a recent graduate from Roger Williams University, are colorful paintings that resemble 4th of July fireworks. It seems only appropriate that this exhibit is on display in “America’s most patriotic town,” yet the installation of the exhibit was almost halted because a few of the museum board members did not approve of some of the work and themes, which led to at least one resignation and made national news. Beyond the paintings are handbags, bikinis, photos of soldiers, tapestries, a rack of garments, different types of glassware, photographs of spiders, sewer covers, and selfies of half naked men. At first glance the pieces on display can look ordinary, some even a little risky. But to get the full effect, the artists ask viewers to deconstruct the works to see the different realities and inspirations behind the art. Some of the art in question included local artist Bradley Wester’s series of archival digital prints, “Queering the Military Disco Intervention,” which depicts different scenes of British military soldiers documenting hazing rituals, some images “feminize” or “make queer” the cadets in the photos. Wester inserts a disco ball into each of his prints to “symbolically ‘disarm’ any negative connotation in these pictures of the vulnerable soldiers not fighting and show them as kind, tender, sexy, and diverse.” Curator Elizabeth Duffy told Options Magazine, “The images are really complex, in a way that at first glance it looks like one thing, but there are so many other things going on in here.” Joy Garnett’s brightly colored paintings that resemble fireworks are based on “photographic depictions of man-made and natural disasters, machine visions, and science experiments gone wrong.” Carolyn Marsden created a trio of embroidered men’s selfies with a bright flash hiding their faces while they are exposing “their brawn in awkward frontal sameness.” She showcases the history of embroidery to occupy women and keep them out of the public sphere, and then turns around and exposes the bad behavior that accompanies the internet. When asked what her favorite pieces were in the exhibit, Duffy could not choose just one as her favorite. “For anyone who feels uncomfortable with the theme of the show,” Duffy said, “I would challenge them to come into the gallery, look at the whole show, take a little time to read… suspend their preconceptions for a moment. People who are not educated about art look for virtuosity first. I would ask them to slow down a little and be open to changing their minds. If they read the paper or look at the news they will see much more challenging images there. Maybe this exhibit can expand their idea of what art is. People, overall, are reacting very positively about this show. Some people were against hanging the show, but that was before the art reached the gallery, and I would tell them the same thing, to slow down.” Duffy said she knew that she wanted to put on a show that was political and also gave the viewers a “punch in the gut reaction.” This exhibit is intended to provoke conversation and encourage the audience to slow down and really examine what is going on, not only in the artwork but in the community as well. This exhibit is on display now through July 14 (Thursday-Sunday, 1-4pm) at The Bristol Art Museum with the goal to travel to another location following this show.