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‘Crossing Boundaries’: Material as Message

by Ivo Perez 

“This whole year we’re doing exhibits on art and activism,” said Barbara Galazzo, Events and Exhibition Director for Rockland Center for the Arts. She was discussing the exhibit Crossing Boundaries: Material as Message, on display at RoCA until Nov.25, adding, “The five artists in this show are involved in activism and social justice, but it’s actually seen in their work: That is their work.” 

Adrienne Sloane’s “Truth to Power” (pictured right) is a fiber piece, which contains figures hanging in mid-air with what appears to be blood falling from their bodies. The title, “Truth to Power,” alludes to the famous phrase “speak truth to power,” a slogan frequently associated with pacifist efforts; it was even the title of a global human rights initiative during the Kennedy administration. The title of the piece, paired with the faceless bleeding figures, is representative of how victims of violence and war lose their humanity to being a statistic, or as casualties of war. Joyce Scott’s “War Baby” is a glass sculpture of a child dressed in what looks like a christening gown; the figures’ limbs are disfigured backwards. Scott is known for making work that comments on issues of race and oppression. The figure in “War Baby” is representative of those affected by war. The disfigured limbs could represent immobility, or how war halts progression in the lives of those affected by it.  

A common theme among the artists featured in the exhibit is a passionate attention directed towards social justice and human rights issues. The desired transformational effect of the art in this exhibit is to inspire and empower viewers to get involved in activism in any way they can. The idea of transformation has a more literal significance when one considers the mediums the artists work in: glass, ceramic, metal, wood, and fiber. Each is a very physical medium; to work with them requires the materials to undergo a sort of physical change. Art itself is an act of transformation in which an artist might turn a blank canvas into a landscape, or more physical materials into a sculpture. There’s an interesting parallel between the fundamentally transformative aspects of creating art and the desired effect of art to transform and empower someone to become different. In Crossing Boundaries, the larger scale of the works, and the labor required to create them, is representative of the transformative effects the artists wish the viewer to experience. 

The idea of transformation, considered in the context of the Crossing Boundaries exhibit, takes on a powerful significance: Often, in the case of human rights violations, groups are oppressed or subjugated in the pursuit of resources, or for labor to obtain resources. The artists with work on display transform the relationship between humans and materials. While it is normally the case for subjugated groups to be manipulated in the pursuit of resources, with the art in this exhibit, materials and resources are given human qualities. The gallery flips the relationship between humans and materials in protest of the dehumanizing quality oppression can have on the individual. It is a subversion of a relationship that depends on manipulating people for material benefit.

The Crossing Boundaries: Material as Message exhibit, featured at RoCA until Nov.25th, focuses on the transformational effect art can have on its viewer. The gallery features work by Nancy Azara, Mitch Lewis, Joyce Scott, Adrienne Sloane and Kebedech Tekleab. Each artist is known internationally for their art, and their passion for activism.

Ivo Perez earned his degree in Communications and Literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. He is most passionate about poetry and cultural criticism.

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