Creatively questioning. Daringly defying. Joyfully jarring. These are the varied notes struck by Florida CraftArt’s new exhibit, REBELS. Showcasing the work of 27 Florida artists, the show reminds us that there’s more than one way (ahem, Twitter) to disagree. And that bold new thoughts can emerge when we do.
“Artists like to think outside the box,” explains Florida CraftArt Gallery Manager Michele Stone. “This show explores what that looks and feels like through the fine craft medium.”
REBELS: No Cage Will Hold Me!
Joyce Curvin’s exquisitely crafted, painted papier mâché bird (“No Cage Will Hold Me!”) greets visitors at the entrance to the gallery, crowing a message of slightly goofy defiance between the wire bars of its enclosure.
Why does this caged bird sing? The reasons are cleverly papered into the cage’s lining: among others, “Creative thinking,” “empathy,” and “I read banned books.”
It is no wonder that Curvin took Best In Show for this piece. Gulfport artist Brenda McMahon, who judged the show, praised its powerful juxtaposition, tackling serious issues such as censorship with a disarmingly silly figure.
“Whatever their medium,” she said. “Artists find their way in.”
Some works in the collection directly confront social justice.
Donna Slawsky’s “Say Their Names” uses a recycled cabinet door to frame a haunting mosaic of three chained figures with hundreds of handwritten names. Each name belonging to a BIPOC person killed in an encounter with police.
Shelly Steck Reale’s “Superheroes of A Certain Age” takes the power back from ageism by juxtaposing ceramic figures like “Mood Swing” and “Hot Flash” against clever comic book style covers. Listen up: She’s gonna roar!
Other pieces frame rebellion as testing the limits of medium.
Dave Flach’s series of comically busted ceramic boxes emerged, said Stone, from his struggle with trying to create hollow cubes from clay.
Mikhail Gubin’s intricate wooden puzzle sculptures create surprising forms — woodpeckers, skulls, silent film stars — out of seemingly disconnected fragments.
Pretty Things, Challenging Statements
“This show made me feel like I had a voice,” said Gulfport artist Elizabeth Neily.
The three pieces she submitted (“Seeing Red,” “Eve’s Punishment,” and “Woke”) used deep crimson yarns to weave bold statements about contemporary misogyny, racism, and the rolling back of rights.
She recalls hours of pounding out coat hangers — incorporated into two of her pieces to evoke the return of dangerous illegal abortions after the overturn of Roe — with a hammer and anvil, venting deep-seated frustrations with today’s political climate as she did.
Neily’s “Woke” envisions this now-contentious word in the form of a wall hanging. It showcases the curving letters in bright rainbow yarns and delicate decorative stitches in a kind of graffiti sampler. It received an honorable mention.
“In my world,” she said. “I sometimes feel like I just watch the news and make pretty things. This was a way to make pretty things that also make a statement.”
In a climate where public discourse often feels as hollow as it does contentious, the opportunity to see how artists work through tough questions and thorny issues in substantive, enlightening ways is downright refreshing.
McMahon said that is the real power of this exhibit.
“We live in a culture of disconnect,” she reflects. “But these pieces drop us out of the head and into the heart.”
You might just leave this exhibit feeling a bit empowered.