Review: Two Exhibitions at the DePaul Art Museum Explore Race, Gender and Class Issues

A great way to spend a couple of hours this fall season is visiting the DePaul Art Museum where two new exhibitions are on display.

On the main floor is A Natural Turn that features the works of María Berrío, Joiri Minaya, Rosana Paulino and Kelly Sinnapah Mary. In this exhibition, the four artists use surrealism not only to blur aspects of reality, but also to heighten an awareness about being a woman within her native culture.

Dominican artist Joiri Minaya creates powerful images of women in restrictive body suits that completely cover their bodies and heads except their eyes. These works challenge the viewer to see how women’s bodies are sexualized and fetishized. There is a haunting aspect in these works because all the viewer sees are the eyes that seem to have a restless quality. There are also two videos by Minaya—one that shows the artist herself wearing one of these body suits while posing in various public settings and the other video shows Minaya’s creative process.

María Berrío, In a Time of Drought,
María Berrío, In a Time of Drought, 2016. Collage with Japanese paper and watercolor paint on canvas. © María Berrío. Courtesy of the artist, Carla Shen and Chris Schott, and Victoria Miro.

María Berrío, who grew up in Colombia and currently lives in New York, creates works crafted from layers of Japanese paper as she reflects on cross-cultural connections seen through the prism of her own history. Her works on display evoke dreams, myths and fairy tales. Through her use of color and light, her work also has a whimsical quality. Berrío’s art explores themes of intercultural connectivity, migration, and one’s relationship with nature. In her works such as in Aluna and In a Time of Drought she expresses a sense of magic from a time when people had a deeper connection to nature and to each other.

Rosana Paulino
Rosana Paulino, From the series Senhora das plantas, Espada de lansã, 2022. Watercolor and graphite on paper. Courtesy of the artist. Rosana Paulino Collection.

Rosana Paulino, a Brazilian artist and educator, examines the history of racial violence and the persisting legacy of slavery in Brazil. Her series of drawings presents attributes of Black women that Western standards of beauty have failed to represent. Her works also act as a strong reminder of how women need to take ownership of their own narrative and not become passive bystanders in a male-dominated culture. What is most intriguing is that a number of her works depict women as animal-women warriors who express an indomitable spirit and have ownership over their own sexuality. All her works explore the theme that women need to be empowered despite the world view that they are second-class citizens.

Kelly Sinnapah Mary, “Notebook
Kelly Sinnapah Mary, Notebook of No Return: Memories, 2022. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Kelly Sinnapah Mary, an Indo-Guadeloupean artist, explores her own cultural identity as well as colonialism in her works. Notebook of No Return: Memories (Mama), is a triptych that depicts the artist as a bride surrounded by vegetation with her skin covered with images from Hindu mythology, European fairy tales and local folklore. In this work we see the multiple influences of various cultures that have influenced her life as a person and as an artist. In Notebook of No Return: Memories we see a woman sitting on a chair in a room with plants sprouting about her while her skin is imprinted with plant life and folkloric images. This is a powerful work where the artist explores the importance of getting in touch with one’s cultural roots and also being in touch with the essence of one’s true nature. Also on display are some 17 sculptures that evoke images from her cultural past.

The exhibition on the second floor is Solo(s): Krista Franklin. In this exhibition, Krista Franklin creates striking collages by cutting, pasting and juxtaposing images from vintage magazines and other printed matter, allowing her work to incorporate poetry, popular culture, and the history of African diaspora. The viewer senses that Franklin’s collages allow her to have a communication with photographers and writers from another era while also adding her own personal point of view.

Krista Franklin, “Blood Meridian
Krista Franklin, Blood Meridian (Or, DeVante at the Blood Meridian), 2019. Ink, chalk, charcoal, pencil, and collage on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Franklin’s use of color and image placement while integrating various mediums invites the viewer to take a close look and to appreciate the many details that come together in her work. Franklin avoids the pitfall of making her art look too busy that would create a visual overload—she knows how to create a sense of space in order to allow images to effectively pop out and come to life. Her works cover sociopolitical issues, gender and sexual identity, as well as glimpses into her personal and spiritual thoughts. It is worth noting that this exhibition also showcases Franklin’s “cover art” collages that were created for books and vinyl records.

The power of these two exhibitions is how they both effectively address race, gender, and class issues while also examining how power structures in politics and business (past and present) continue to suppress truth and freedom.

Both exhibitions will run through February 19, 2023. The DePaul Art Museum is located at 935 W. Fullerton Ave. Gallery hours are Wednesday and Thursday 11am-7pm; Friday, Saturday and Sunday 11am-5pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit their website or call 773-325-7506.

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Tom Wawzenek
Tom Wawzenek
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