Self-awareness, Civil Rights inspire "Totem and Taboo" exhibit
In her 2007 exhibit “Dangerous,” artist Jesse Chandler explored the women who were deemed threatening to the society in which they lived. Larger than life paintings of Marilyn Monroe, Rosa Parks and Emma Goldman were proudly displayed, but a hidden part of the showcase was how Chandler viewed her own place in the world.
“I felt I was just starting to break out of the polite confines of acceptability,” she said. “People who know me could argue that I have never been in the polite confines of acceptability, but spiritually I was inside of an eggshell trying to tap my way out.”
In her latest exhibit, “Totem and Taboo,” Chandler feels she has finally broken free.
With “Totem and Taboo,” there is no more hiding. It’s about standing up and saying, ‘This is who I am,’ she said.
“It may not always be attractive and if that scares you, it isn’t my problem.”
Her collection, which is comprised of paintings, sculptures, fiber arts and assemblages, has several nude self-portraits.
“I wanted it to be honest and funny,” she said in reference to her Wizard of Oz themed self-portraits. “At the time, I didn’t know how uncomfortable they would make people, especially when I was standing in front of them, clothed, explaining the portraits. It was a new lesson for me.”
Still, she has no regrets displaying her attributes.
“They say who I am.”
In addition to a heightened self-awareness, her collection was also inspired by women’s issues and the American Civil Rights Movement.
In the painting "Blood at the Root," jazz artist Billie Holiday stands beautiful and defiant while ensnared in vines. Holiday famously sang the Abel Meeropol poem "Strange Fruit," which was written to condemn racism.
In "Baptism by Song: The Last Thing She Saw," Chandler pays homage to the four young girls who were killed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963. A bomb, planted by Ku Klux Klan members, went off while they were attending service.
Chandler said these women, and the spirit of women in general, encompass her feelings on “Totem and Taboo.”
“It seems when you’re a different race or gender, it makes you unsafe,” Chandler said. “It makes you suspect and have a precarious position in this world. They’re telling you to hide. But now we have an idea of who we are; that it may not seem perfect but this is it and we have no other choice but to live in the shoes we are given.”
Woven into the exhibit is music from The Ukulele Cowboy Society, which Chandler fronts. Her husband Michael Kaplan plays the ukulele. They describe the band as an “alternative-nouveau-pastiche-postmodern” jazz and swing duo.
For “Totem and Taboo,” they play music specific to pre-1935 America and speak of the history of each song.
“I like to talk about the history of the music we play and what it is they’re (the audience) is hearing,” she said. “I like people to see how the story was and how it can be tied into my own, and our own, stories.”
“Totem and Taboo” will be on display at the Sean Christopher Gallery at Health Perspectives, Suite H&N on Feb. 26 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The Ukulele Cowboy Society will perform from 7:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.. The Sean Christopher Galley is located at 815 N. High St. in Columbus.