About Books: An Exhibition Statement From Curator Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

About Books: An Exhibition Statement From Curator Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis cover

In 1994, March was named National Reading Month in honor of Dr. Suess’ birthday. In an era of censorship and book banning, this annual campaign to encourage reading among children and adults is increasingly vital to our well-being. Our third exhibition of the year, About Books, features artists working in a scintillating range of media and styles who share their personal histories and address seismic shifts in the political and literary terrain. Through exquisitely crafted artist books, photographs, journals, documents, sculptures, and zines, they celebrate the enduring power of books to illuminate, inspire, and transform. As Virginia Woolf stated in A Room of One’s Own, “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

Honed from submissions for NOT REAL ART’s annual grant that share a common obsession with pages and words, the work in this month’s exhibition feels particularly prescient. Innocent botanical booklets feature images of abortion-inducing plants. Anti-racist assemblages and a recreated schoolroom confront the slanting and repression of information. A shredded journal reflects a family’s complex history in the South. A fractured head atop a decaying diary, and a forlorn bookshelf address the lingering effects of childhood trauma. Blending memories and myths with intimate observations and responses to current events, the artists in our March exhibition investigate the evolving role of books in a fragmented, ever-shifting environment.

Book Art, Graphic Novels, and Zines

Our third exhibition of 2024, ‘About Books,’ celebrates the enduring impact of documents, manuscripts, and zines in an era of censorship and book banning.
‘Transient’ by Sarah Matthews

From chiseled stone tablets and illuminated manuscripts to leather-bound tomes and cloud libraries, books have taken on a wealth of shapes and forms. Sarah Matthews’ intricately constructed artist book “Transient,” Rachel Shelton’s interactive wall manuscript “Interstitial (Stratum),” and Sarah Nguyen’s accordion book “How Does Your Garden Grow?” use texture, repetition, and layering to encourage viewers to delve beneath the surface. Catherine Goenner’s witty cut-paper flowers created from discarded National Geographic magazines make a sly statement about obsolescence. Saulaman Schlegel’s giveaway zines poke a subtle jab at proselytizing religions, explore gender and identity issues, and consider the divine within the mundane. Pam Douglas blends stories of refugees with elements of her family history in the hand-drawn graphic novel “Bearing Witness.”

Memory, Family, and Loss

Our third exhibition of 2024, ‘About Books,’ celebrates the enduring impact of documents, manuscripts, and zines in an era of censorship and book banning.
‘Daddy’ by Josey Seung-Ah Lee

Since the earliest days of the written word, books have conveyed stories and wisdom to future generations. Josey Seung-Ah Lee and MacKenzie Curtis artfully combine book-related objects with sculpture and drawing to confront past trauma and loss. Rebekah Budd’s volumes of pandemic diaries, featuring self-portrait sketches and text, document her experiences during COVID-19 for her descendants down the line. Gibron Whitney Shepperd’s lush visual memoir, “Sons of Abraham,” and the accompanying video, and Ann Silverman’s sensuous handmade paper fashioned from strips of her grandmother’s journals preserve, honor, and reshape their personal and family histories. In her Jazz Age-style collage “Total Eclipse (The Mysteries),” Alexandra N. Sherman juxtaposes vintage ephemera and antique postage stamps over documents from 1925 to evoke the ornate elegance of a lost era.

Censorship, Politics, and Human Rights

Our third exhibition of 2024, ‘About Books,’ celebrates the enduring impact of documents, manuscripts, and zines in an era of censorship and book banning.
‘The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics’ (detail) by Pantea Karimi

As censorship rears its ugly head, artists and writers are pushing back against creative and intellectual repression, social and political divisiveness, infringements on human rights, and discrimination in all forms. In the installation “The Unbearable Lightness of Mathematics,” Pantea Karimi shares the anxiety of growing up in a fundamentalist regime by reconstructing her high-school classroom in Iran. Christopher Jagmin uses a children’s book format and debossed letterpress techniques to relay stories about gay and trans youth. Chris Revelle and JC Lenochan combat racism through stacks of excluded books and powerful mixed-media assemblages. Defense lawyer Glynn Cartledge collages book images of incarcerated individuals over a painting of a jail cell to address glaring inequalities in the criminal justice system.

Poetry, Storytelling, and Literature

Our third exhibition of 2024, ‘About Books,’ celebrates the enduring impact of documents, manuscripts, and zines in an era of censorship and book banning.
‘Striped Books’ by Patty Carroll

Patty Carroll’s evocative multi-color photograph of a woman buried in books—part of a series of female figures overwhelmed by domestic objects—is a testimony to literature’s seductive powers. Catherine Camargo’s compilation “Quiet Petal 1,” featuring original poems, elegies, and photographs, invites viewers to reflect on human existence. Susanna Gaunt’s bookplates of human and animal “species” spotlight natural history books’ objectifying approach. Thomas Brodhead’s surreal painting of a bird lighting on a “book of wisdom” addresses similar issues of social and intellectual control. M. McCubbins’ exuberant homage to groundbreaking author Andre Lourde and Louise Laplante’s collaged vintage book pages celebrate writers’ efforts to make a lasting mark on the world.

All photos published with permission of the artist(s).

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Tags

art exhibition, artist book, book art, book lover, books, curator's statement, Dr. Suess, first friday exhibitions, group exhibition, National Reading Month, reading, self-published, virtual exhibition, zine


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