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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cultural Convergence

Art Review

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  A collaborative performance and mixed media installation at UWM's UnionArtGallery, “Implosion: Cultural Integration and Transformation,” attempts to draw a through-line among disparate cultures using the lightning rod of religious iconography. Rather than focusing on Abrahamic, monotheistic religious expressions, artists Leandro Soto, Raoul Deal, and Ren Maldonado, in collaboration with Nigerian dramatist Awam Amkpa, ask viewers to consider the feminine roots of polytheism.

  “Implosion” is both performance and exhibition, though for gallery visitors who missed the opening on April 25, the performance was a singular happening, an ephemeral event survived only by video documentation and further contextualized by physical residue that remains within the gallery. The performers, according to professor Grisel Pujala-Soto, "successfully instigate[d] the spectators to cross the border between a pure performance art happening and ancient forms of ritual worships."

  The gallery, which is divided by structural columns, creates compact, ready-made ritual spaces, the floor of each covered by a large work on paper, like tempera-painted prayer rugs haphazardly duct taped to the floor. The perimeter of the gallery is lined with video projections and large, banner-like works on paper are elaborate backdrops adorning an empty stage.

  Tiny mirrors embellish the gallery walls, referencing the traditional embroidered saris of Indian women. Collaged newspapers in Hindi and English and a mash-up of sacred imagery culled from Eastern faiths are connected by wooden shoe molds, whichdance up the walls and tread on and around these sacred or meditative spaces.

  “Implosion's” inherent problem is the ease with which the viewer, led by the artists, is able to conflate spirituality with religion, the latter an arguably rigid iconographic expression of the former. While it is noble to draw comparisons among the representation of the divine mother archetype in polytheistic faiths, it is difficult to ignore that with religion, the devil is in the details.

  From the centuries-old blood feud between Protestants and Catholics to the contemporary battle between splintered factions of Islam to civil war between Tamil Hindus and Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka,the urge for Cain to kill Abel, regardless of consanguinity and mother Eve, has a biblical precedent. Organized religion defines our differences, creating a system of seismic rifts. Cultural convergence, achieved by transcending these differences across borders both geographic and philosophical, is not always harmonious, but necessary.

  April 25 - June 13 at the UWM Union Art Gallery, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd. Call 414.229.6310 for more information.

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