Four Northeast Ohio artists are speaking up for social injustices in the “Art of Dissent” exhibit at Shaker Community Gallery. They’re using this display as a way to visually depict struggles with poverty, the right to protest, racism, political extremes and the environment.
Along with artwork, the gallery will host four community forums in September and October surrounding the theme of opposition to the status quo.
“History has shown time and again there is a price for complacency and a price for silence,” says Leslye Arian, gallery curator and Shaker Heights artist, during the opening reception. She hopes the exhibit “inspires conversation and maybe even action around some of these very difficult world issues.”
Piano music from a church service accompanied a tour through the Shaker Community Gallery on a recent Wednesday evening. The artwork is displayed within a chapel at Christ Episcopal Church in Shaker Heights’ growing Van Aken District. From the chapel, visitors look through a glass window into the sanctuary, where services are held in tandem.
While the gallery is inside a Christian-based congregation, the artwork is secular and open to all audiences. Arian, who doesn’t attend the church, opened the gallery earlier this year after speaking with the Rev. Peter Faass. Christ Episcopal opens its sizable building to other groups, like Shirley McCormack’s Soulful Flow Yoga classes and Verb Ballets. The Episcopal faith’s mission highlights using arts and culture as part of spiritual development.
For the “Art of Dissent” exhibit, the gallery chose area artists Michelangelo Lovelace, Liz Maugans and husband-and-wife duo Laura and Gary Dumm.
Haunting eyes set on bricks stare at the viewer in Lovelace’s “Deportation Wall.” The artist created this piece after President Donald Trump announced his administration would construct a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Growing up in difficult circumstances, the artist’s other works reflect on poverty and the inner city.
As part of her display, Maugans asks the viewer to write a slogan for a cause or protest banner and post it on the gallery wall. For the “Apathy Parade” series, the artist creates banners with content pulled from social media rants and debates. Maugans, a civic and political lobbyist, also is a founder of Zygote Press, which is a workshop for fine art printing, and CAN Journal (Collective Arts Network), which provides reporting and commentary on the local arts scene.
After the white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Va., Gary Dumm was inspired to create a pen and ink drawing called “The Invisible Man Returns (to Fascism),” which is part of the Shaker show. Gary and his wife Laura of more than 40 years collaborated on an environmental pop-surrealist series that tackles greed and the American dream. In one work, titled “Washed Away in the Digital Reign,” the couple created a female robot with multiple arms holding such items as a duster, hamburger and wrench. Their work comments on the effects of pollution, climate change and engineering. Gary is known for his illustrations in Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor comics. Laura is a painter and colorist for Gary’s drawings.
The upcoming community forums are at 7 p.m. Wednesday evenings at the gallery. The first, “Owning Protest Art” on Sept. 13, will feature speakers Theresa Bembnister, associate curator of the Akron Art Museum, and Kimberly Bell, a clinical director at the Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development and assistant professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
On Sept. 20, guests from Verb Ballets, City Ballet of Cleveland, Dancing Wheels Company and Inlet Dance Theatre will open discussions about “Dance of Opposition.”
Married couples will speak on working together during “Duos of Dissent” Sept. 27. Along with Laura and Gary Dumm, spouses Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger, who are poets, educators and literary consultants, will join the forum.
Finally, Christ Episcopal Church’s the Rev. Faass will lead the discussion on “Spirituality of Dissent” Oct. 4.
The gallery, which opened its first exhibit in the spring, is the only nonprofit arts space in Shaker Heights. Arian wanted it to be part of the Van Aken District, which is currently in construction as a new dining, shopping, living and entertainment area for Shaker Heights set to open next summer. “I’m very in tune with redeveloping negative space,” she says. “Looking at Van Aken, they demolished what was there before, so I thought, Wow. This is a great space for arts and culture.” Since the district doesn’t have a stand-alone location for a gallery yet, Arian thought the next best option was to use an existing building.
Shaker Community Gallery is open from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays, noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays or by appointment. “Art of Dissent” will continue through Oct. 7.
Feature photo: Visitors view Laura and Gary Dumm's artwork at the Shaker Community Gallery. PHOTO BY ANGELA CHAMBERS