Review: Two exhibitions at the DePaul Art Museum explore issues of race, gender and class

A great way to spend a few hours this fall is to visit the DePaul Museum of Art where two new exhibits are on display.

On the ground floor is A natural turn which features the works of María Berrío, Joiri Minaya, Rosana Paulino and Kelly Sinnapah Mary. In this exhibition, the four artists use surrealism not only to blur aspects of reality, but also to heighten awareness of being a woman within one’s native culture.

Dominican artist Joiri Minaya creates powerful images of women dressed in restrictive jumpsuits that completely cover their bodies and heads except for their eyes. These works challenge the viewer to see how women’s bodies are sexualized and fetishized. There is a haunting aspect to these works as all the viewer sees are the eyes which seem to have a restless quality. There are also two Minaya videos – one which shows the artist herself wearing one of these jumpsuits while posing in various public places and the other video shows Minaya’s creative process.

Maria Berrio, In times of drought, 2016. Collage with Japanese paper and watercolor on canvas. © Maria Berrio. Courtesy of the artist, Carla Shen and Chris Schott, and Victoria Miro.

María Berrío, who grew up in Colombia and currently lives in New York, creates works made from layers of Japanese paper while reflecting on cross-cultural connections seen through the lens of her own history. His exhibited works evoke dreams, myths and fairy tales. Through her use of color and light, her work also has a whimsical quality. Berrío’s art explores themes of cross-cultural connectivity, migration, and relationship with nature. In his works as in Aluna and In times of drought it expresses a sense of the magic of a time when people had a deeper connection with nature and with each other.

Rosana Paulin
Rosana Paulino, From the series Senhora das plantas, Espada de lansã, 2022. Watercolor and graphite on paper. Courtesy of the artist. Rosana Paulino collection.

Rosana Paulino, Brazilian artist and educator, examines the history of racial violence and the lingering legacy of slavery in Brazil. Her series of drawings showcase attributes of black women that western beauty standards have failed to portray. Her works are also powerful reminders of the need for women to own their own narrative and not become passive spectators in a male-dominated culture. What is most intriguing is that a number of his works depict women as animal warriors who express an indomitable spirit and have ownership of their own sexuality. All of her works explore the theme that women need to be empowered despite the worldview that they are second-class citizens.

Kelly Sinnapah Mary, “Notebook
Kelly Sinnapah Marie, Notebook of no return: memories, 2022. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Indo-Guadeloupean artist Kelly Sinnapah Mary explores her own cultural identity as well as colonialism in her works. Notebook of no return: memories (Mama), is a triptych that depicts the artist as a bride surrounded by vegetation with her skin covered in images from Hindu mythology, European fairy tales and local folklore. In this work we see the multiple influences of various cultures that influenced his life as a person and as an artist. In Notebook of no return: memories we see a woman sitting in a chair in a room with plants growing around her while her skin is imprinted with plant life and folk imagery. This is a powerful work where the artist explores the importance of getting in touch with one’s cultural roots and also being in touch with the essence of one’s true nature. Also on display are some 17 sculptures that evoke images of its cultural past.

The exhibition on the second floor is Solo(s): Krista Franklin. In this exhibition, Krista Franklin creates striking collages by cutting, pasting and juxtaposing images from vintage magazines and other printed matter, allowing her work to incorporate poetry, popular culture and the history of the African diaspora. The viewer feels that Franklin’s collages allow him to have communication with photographers and writers from another era while adding his own personal point of view.

Krista Franklin,
Krista Franklin, Blood Meridian (Or, DeVante at the Blood Meridian), 2019. Ink, chalk, charcoal, pencil and collage on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Franklin’s use of color and image placement while incorporating various mediums invites the viewer to look closely and appreciate the many details that come together in his work. Franklin avoids the pitfall of making her art look too cluttered that would create visual overload – she knows how to create a sense of space in order to allow images to come out and come to life effectively. Her works cover socio-political issues, gender and sexual identity, as well as insights into her personal and spiritual thoughts. It should be noted that this exhibit also features Franklin’s “cover art” collages that were created for books and vinyl records.

The power of these two exhibits lies in how effectively they address issues of race, gender, and class while examining how power structures in politics and business (past and present) continue to suppress truth and freedom.

Both exhibitions will run through February 19, 2023. The DePaul Art Museum is located at 935 W. Fullerton Ave. The gallery’s opening hours are Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free entry. For more information, visit their website or call 773-325-7506.

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Mildred D. Field