Coconut Grove’s LnS Gallery is adjacent to a prominent Miami-area lumber shop. Jennifer Basile, one of the seventeen artists featured in the gallery’s group exhibition, In the Company of Women: At Large, used full sheets of plywood to cut the reliefs for “Coot Bay II.” The woodblock print across four panels and an entire wall is a vernacular work referencing not only the art gallery’s location but also the area at large. Describing the piece, Basile says, “Construction, over-development, and climate change are affecting our landscape’s shape.” It’s a big statement; but size is integral to In the Company of Women: At Large.
Curator Dainy Tapia defines “At Large” for visitors in an accompanying special edition of the gallery’s journal. “At Large,” she writes, “comes from the French au sens large, which translates as at liberty or free of restraint.” In that same publication, Maritza Lacayo, assistant curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, writes, “To have power is to take up space–both literally and figuratively. Among the most brazen attacks on women, barring them from obtaining positions of influence is the most obvious response to upholding the patriarchy. When one takes up space, it gives permission for other women to do the same.” The works are reflective of these ruminations on freedom and space.
Take “Entitled”, an installation by Karen Rifas. At the center of the gallery is a large glass cube of a space. Imagine the experience of entering a home which opens to an expansive picture window; your eyes are immediately drawn there. The same goes for the cube. Inside is a wall painted in varying shades of pink and a flagpole with the same linear color scheme set against it. In the gallery’s published journal there’s a QR code where visitors can listen to an audio clip of the names of other women who have inspired the artists in the show. In her statement, Rifas said, “Women still need to band together to secure their rights. The strips on this flag represent that endless effort – the colors are pink but bold.”
Another notable work which reflects both the gallery and show’s impetus for large scale includes Loni Johnson’s “IYA / YEYE” series. The title words translate to “mother” in the Yoruba dialect. Johnson’s practice is all about creating space for healing. The items themselves don’t take up the same literal space as other works in the show but they imply generations of storytelling: a great time-scale. The artist digs into peoples’ genealogies and dismantles family myths into sculptural mirrors and ornate gilded wall hangings which depict family objects. At the center and top of “IYA / YEYE” is a depiction of Ezilí Dantor, the Black Madonna and child. She is a figure in Haitian vodou, and an image associated with the vengeance of Haiti’s revolt against France. Though a saint votive is common in religious households–implying domesticity–Ezilí Dantor’s presence implies a transcendence beyond the walls of the home.
Natalia Garcia-Lee’s “Standard Model” encompasses many of the themes already discussed. Of the work, she says, “Hyper-modernization has transformed the world we live in morphing our sense of environment, sense of self, and ultimately providing new problems for our species that find solutions in primal behaviors disguised as advancement.” The description is slightly more abstract than previous pieces, reflective of the way it looks. Fractured into a triptych, the oil painting is a pink landscape surrounded on all sides by implications of industrial dominance – dark, smokey skies and dashed lines reminiscent of big highways. Though rolling hills and the countryside might be interpreted in the pink parts of the painting–ideas of freedom and hope–it seems they are more representative of the artist’s search for self in a bleak world than the possibility of a rosy outcome.
Albeit via abstraction, Garcia-Lee’s work says what LnS Gallery is trying to accomplish by exhibiting, and Dainy Tapia is trying to draw attention in curating, In the Company of Women: At Large. In Florida, and its parent company the United States, women are under attack again. Expressions of power, occupation of space, and coming together are just some of the tools by which we can fight back.
This piece was published in partnership with Oolite Arts as part of a project to increase critical arts coverage in Miami-Dade County.