COLUMBIA — If you’re looking for a set of visuals that you have no choice but to react to, then the current “Represent” exhibition at the Bingham Gallery might appeal. The show’s watercolors, king-size drawings in charcoal and installations are the work of 16 students working toward their master of fine arts degrees at MU. Here are three of their stories:
A fat cat with razor sharp teeth and a headdress of gold and animal skulls is shrouded by flames; the cat holds a mouse by the tail, eyeing it hungrily. Not too far off, a pink rabbit with a devious grin stands over his bunny-slipper clad victim while hiding a large knife behind his back.
“They’re just repulsive,” Nancy Brown said of her art. “I don’t want these in my home.”
But Brown isn’t making art for the purpose of selling it. “I only have another 75 years to live,” she said, “and I’ve just got too much to say, whether people want to hear it or not.”
She never paints, draws or sculpts people. Rather, she tries to express the human experience through animals. Her two displays, a vivid acrylic painting called “Farewell Little Moussie II” and a series of mixed-media sculptures titled “Greed,” depict the human desire for things they don’t need.
“I was a bit influenced by Aztec art for this,” Brown said, referring to the design of the cat’s headdress in “Farewell Little Moussie II.” “It’s made of gold, and we don’t need it, but we have so many people dying every day trying to get this stupid metal.” The cat is clearly burdened by the headdress, which takes up most of the canvas, and jewelry he wears, but his greed surpasses discomfort. He only wants more, and the mouse is his unneeded desire.
Her sculptures, which include a partially decapitated cat, a six-legged rabbit and a horse wearing a skull-mask, stand among hundreds of pennies that Brown all stacked by hand. “They represent how this country is built on greed,” she said. Brown said that Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves, symbolizes the opposite of greed, and so the heads of the pennies are all facing heads up.
“Plus I just love them,” she said of the penny. “They’re just beautiful. They’re the most beautiful coin.”
“I’ve never done stuff like this,” she said of her message art. “I’m excited to see what I’ll be doing six months from now.”
Eric Zamuco has created a piece of Filipino-American history in a more interesting way.
“I think where you are affects what you make,” Zamuco said. Born and raised in the Philippines, the art he created back home was different than the concepts he works with now. “For my recent work, I’ve been dealing with the idea of displacement.”
Nearly an entire semester of research and meticulous crafting led to the creation of “Banal na Kasuotan,” meaning sacred raiment. From studies, Zamuco learned that some of the first Filipinos to come to America were used in “human exhibitions.”
An old religious tradition for indigenous groups of the Philippines involved sacrificing a dog and eating the meat. Some of the people in the exhibitions were forced to practice the ritual daily, Zamuco said. This inspired Zamuco’s medium for the project: dog treats and rawhide chips mixed together, shaped into objects and strategically arranged.
In his research, Zamuco learned the Americans thought the Filipinos were scantily clad. “‘Let’s cover them with the righteousness of Jesus,’” he recalled a passage saying. So, the shapes are of an article or clothing or accessory, such as a Victorian-style shoe, a jacket or an embroidered handkerchief.
The Filipinos were able to sell artifacts from their homeland during the exhibitions. “They were trying to find opportunity,” Zamuco said, “and it’s the same thing I’m going through here.” Though his work mainly represents a collective history, he also wanted to show a connection between the displacement of early Filipinos in America and his own.
Zamuco doesn’t want art simply to be about making art, but an avenue connecting people to something bigger than them. “I want my work to put a viewer in a situation where he or she could think about these things,” he said.
“It is funny that you think I do not know.”
“I am standing right here in front of you.”
“Do not look at me like I am a freak.”
As someone who enjoys creative writing, Bob Hartzell has long seen text as important. “Polite Conversations” uses words as a stronger way to communicate with his viewers than visual images alone.
“We don’t really have polite conversations anymore in a divided society,” Hartzell said. So instead of suggestions for things to say at the dinner table, “Polite Conversations” is a silk-screened booklet that focuses on common aspects of the human experience.
“Selling art is great,” he said, but he gets more satisfaction out of giving away his booklets, which is why he created several hundred copies of “Polite Conversations.” Seeing something he gave away years later on a coffee table in someone’s living room gives him the most joy. “I feel the need to return something to the community, and this is my way of doing it,” he said. “I like to think of myself as a gateway into art.”
For 11 years, Hartzell worked at a club in Chicago too small for the 400 or so people who squeezed inside for concerts. The lighting was poor, so Hartzell experimented with fibers and other structures to make it better. He was a printmaker at the time, but this experience caused him to start creating light fixtures as art.
“Snake in the Grass” is one of those pieces, created from wood, fibers and what Hartzell called a “slug of paper” that sat in a ditch in his mother’s yard for months, becoming a home to insects.