I had never heard of Bunk Spot Gallery when I started seeing mentions of it popping up on my Facebook newsfeed. These mentions were coming from many of the female identifying artists whose work I respect and follow in the local arts scene. Suddenly the gallery’s name seemed to be everywhere. I immediately took notice. What was this new space bringing together so many of the artists I love in Cincinnati?
‘Queen City: A group show of local womyn + queer artists’ is the second exhibition at Bunk Spot Gallery in their newly opened location in Pendleton. The show is one of many local exhibitions highlighting the voices of female and queer artists since the election in November 2016. We have seen a significant increase in interest among galleries to showcase the creative power of the female voice. The work, the frustrations and the talent, have always been present; however, as of late, galleries are starting to create the space to make it heard.
Several of the exhibitions I’ve seen or been a part of in the last 6 months have centered around the election and have focused heavily on the energy created by the Women’s March. The biggest protest in U.S. history, this massive event garners reflection and acknowledgement. It produced an immense amount of creative energy which I have been pleased to see reflected in the local arts scene. This being said, ‘Queen City’ was a refreshing step back from the pink pussy hats of January 2017 and a more raw look at the work being produced by womyn and queer artists in Cincinnati, political and otherwise.
I was immediately attracted to a series of digital collages by Jessi Jumanji from a series titled ‘afrofuturism’. These surreal collages place images of Africans, mostly womyn, among planets, galaxies and world landmarks such as the pyramids or the Roman Coliseum. These womyn stand larger than life in these spaces, imposing a power and strength over these landmarks of human existence. It is almost a retelling of history, or rather a retaking of history, placing people who have been discounted and abused by western society as masters of the universe. When looking at the image of two young Africans balancing on the tips of pyramids, I can’t help but think of the white washing of history. That the creators of these massive statements of human ingenuity would have looked more like these individuals then the Eurocentric depictions I’ve seen represented in movies, television and Western media. Powerful and thought provoking I am grateful to have been exposed to Jumanji’s work.
In the center of the gallery stands a mirrored pedestal with an assortment of beauty products. The labels on each item are designed with the light airy aesthetic of traditional feminine products. Each compact, lip gloss, eye shadow and spray bottle is designated ‘clear’. This piece titled ‘Clear (of Going Clear)’ by Ingrid Alexandra Schmidt, is a humorous commentary on the absurdity of the commercial beauty industry which feeds on the insecurities of womyn. These insecurities are of course a product of the beauty industry and media and a vital force in keeping this industry profitable. I found this piece to be a simple yet effective way of highlighting the way womyn are preyed upon by commercialism and unreasonable expectations of beauty.
(Author’s Note: This piece is accompanied by a video which was not available at the time I viewed the show)
Jesse Fox’s photographs were also an eye catching addition to the show, depicting three scenes of female domination. Fox’s work often focuses on embodiments of femininity often ignored by mainstream media. Her past work has documented drag queens, dominatrixes and fat womyn. The most striking of Fox’s photographs in the exhibition is also the most political in the show. Here one woman in a cat mask stands over a chained and crouching woman in a Donald Trump mask. Both clad in leather bondage clothing the initial message is clear: Pussy grabs back. Looking closer, however, one wonders why Fox chose two womyn for the shoot. Perhaps this is a comment on the role white womyn played in the election of Trump and the implicit role they have played in maintaining their own repression. It is hard to say definitively what Fox’s intent was, but the role reversal asks the viewer to look beyond the initial message for deeper meaning and challenged me to sit with this piece longer.
Overall ‘Queen City: A group show of local womyn + queer artists’ was an interesting look at work being produced by up and coming local artists. I felt the show lacked cohesion in subject matter but succeeded in offering a platform for these artists to show their work, regardless of a political stance. Many of the works in the show were well crafted paintings, drawings, or prints that may or may not have related to the role womyn and queer people play in society. This in and of itself is an important distinction, as the work of womyn and queer artists do not need to be intrinsically political to be valid. I personally gravitated towards the more political work, but felt that the entire show was strong in concept and execution. Curator Ava Roberts brought together a diverse group of artists crossing many mediums and styles, highlighting quality in both concept and craft.
I look forward to seeing what Bunk Spot Gallery has in store for us next. This DIY space is an energized collective of artists with plans to exhibit a new show each month. Their goal is to provide a less traditional and more personal experience for viewers when exploring new work. When you visit you will not find a gallery concerned with pristine white walls and precisely hung work, rather a gathering place for ideas and new ventures.
More information about future shows can be found on their Facebook page. Gallery viewings are available upon request most evenings after 5pm.
-Chelsea Borgman is an artist and writer living in Cincinnati Ohio. She is the gallery director at Brazee Street Studios.