Curated by Saad Ghosn, the 19th annual SOS show with a cohesive theme of peace and justice showcases 94 works from student artists to professionals. With the year 2020 behind them the artists were obviously drawn to the subjects of racial oppression, isolation, fear and mortality. It is interesting to see how the younger and older / more seasoned artists each approached these subjects. Variety in media
type is also represented in SOS 2021, with graphics, short film, painting , drawing and 3D composition all represented. It makes us all a bit cynical to see where 2020 left us with hope of a brighter 2021, and yet we are still mired in a pandemic and having endured a less than peaceful transition of power. This failure to realize the optimistic hope of a return to normalcy may have exacerbated depression and
isolation seen by these artists. The promise of racial justice and healthy congregation dwindled from the beginning of January and led us to an uncertain present in the summer of 2021.

Sculptor Bob Kling and artist/designer Steve Wuesthoff bring “Headlight”, a GIF (graphics interchange format), which functions in this case as a small looped video. In grainy black and white, we see a car with headlights approaching a slow turn. In the foreground, an animated skeleton is slowly illuminated. As the car loops around, the skeleton attempts to hail the car (taxi?); the car fails to stop or even
slow for the skeleton character. Our skeleton protagonist throws up its arms in frustration and then collapses as the video dissolves into the image of a skull. Mortality and the pandemic seem all too obvious symbols here but there is another which comprises one of the layers of tragedy in 2021. The skeleton is of course, invisible to the car/taxi. Is it Ellison’s “Invisible Man”? Quite clearly the allusion to racial
injustice and not being seen or heard is made. The endless loop of “Headlight” represents the endless cycle and continuation of the invisibility of African American experiences in America. Our skeleton is continually outraged and throws its hand up, only to be disappointed and ignored again and again.

“Headlight” GIF Bob Kling and Steve Wuesthoff

Artist and architect Michael Romanos has exemplified the sense of recurrent optimism amidst the slow moving struggle for civil rights in this country. With “Looking at (for?) Justice”, we see an African American boy staring out of a small window in a darkened room. On the wall is an old Obama 2008 campaign poster emblazoned with “HOPE”. Darkness surrounds the boy and his toys lay discarded on
the floor. Perhaps he has lost his innocence and is no longer a child. With quite literally the backdrop of hope framing him, he looks out onto the streets to see the light of change and progress taking place in front of him. However, the light is narrow and he seems wary of engagement and excitement about what he sees in the street. As this work was inspired by a photograph of Cincinnati’s OTR neighborhood, we may more concretely surmise that he witnessed the struggle for social justice play out in front of him during the tumultuous summer of 2020. As we all face the rabid attacks upon voting rights for minorities in 2021, we are all this boy in OTR. We reservedly harbor Obama’s hope. We have seen the struggler in the streets. But we are no longer innocents and are jaded that any real justice can be achieved in this 2021.

“Looking at (for?) Justice”
Michael Romanos
acrylic on canvas 24″x18″

Jazz is one of the most American art forms, and one born out of the African American experience in the Jim Crow era. Throughout the 20th century jazz followed the struggle of what it meant to be Black in America. From Billie Holiday’s obvious protest of “Strange Fruit” to Miles Davis’ “Riot”, to the redemptive prayer of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” jazz has spoken out, with or without words for the
reality of racial struggle in America. Julie Broxic’s “All That Jazz” brings a jazz- like approach to using found material in art. The aleatoric nature of found object music is realized in Broxic’s use of scraps of vinyl from her representational art. The resulting collage has musical staves, horn shapes and flowing lines which suggest a sinuous trumpet passage or a cyclic drum pattern. The sense of a
figure in motion is also apparent, implying dancers or the visualization of a melody. The vibrant color palette brings royal and light blues in contrast with dark and light shades of green. The tension of discordant harmony is implied with the near clashing of these colors. The way that “All That Jazz” works as an amalgamation of word fragments and color/shape contrasts mimic jazz’s fusion of European
instruments with African Rhythms.

“All That Jazz”
Julie Broxic
Adhesive vinyl on clear acetate

Well into the year 2021, we are adjusting to a new normal. Where two years ago most of us had consigned the thought of a deadly epidemic stalking America and the burgeoning hatred and separation of a new Civil War to relics of the 19th and 20th centuries, we seem to accept them as background noise today. Likewise, those who were not affected by racism and oppression two years ago have been awakened to the background noise of violence, death and voicelessness that Black America has known for even longer. We are as weary and hopeful as the boy in OTR, and as angry as the Invisible Man. And as now artists create art to commemorate life in this America we look forward to 2021 with trepidation and optimism.

–Will Newman

SOS ART 2021 Exhibit
ANNEX gallery through 7/21
1310 Pendleton St
Cincinnati OH 45202

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