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Words get in the way

XX-XY/Gender Representation in Art

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Making a statement: Lesley Dill’s ‘Dada Wedding Dress’ is stamped with the words of Emily Dickinson’s poem, ‘The Soul Has Bandaged Moments’

Likewise, a misshapen 
beaded necklace by Baltimore artist Joyce Scott is a complex mess of bright beadwork into which a few simple patterns and skeletons are woven. (The placard beneath it urges viewers to think about what kind of statement the necklace makes about life.) Lesley Dill’s “Dada Poem Wedding Dress” is a long-sleeved white paper dress decorated with typography: words of the poem “The Soul Has Bandaged Moments” by Emily Dickinson. From a distance, it looks ghostly and demure, but upon closer inspection, one can see the places where the dress – which was torn apart in 1994, word by word, during a charity ball for AIDS organizations – has been ripped to pieces and sewn back together again. Its surface is crumpled and reveals the staples and strands of thread that hold it together.

A massive, untitled wood cut by artist Kerry James Marshall is the highlight of this show, though. It illustrates a quaint-looking domestic scene in pastel tones, at the center of which are six adult black men. In one panel, three men sit on a floor engaged in what seems to be an emotional confrontation or discussion. In another panel, an older man wielding a teapot is poised to pour a cup for another man sitting on the couch, while a third man sits on the floor looking on. There’s nothing inherently unusual about the mundane scene, but something about it is unsettling: Is it that there are no women in this domestic scenario? That the men all wear somber looks on their faces and seem ill at ease? Or is it simply that viewers are not accustomed to seeing groups of black men portrayed in these kinds of intimate moments of personal interaction? Whatever the reason, the effect is haunting and perhaps says more about gender representation in its own impenetrable way than a whole host of explanatory materials about the topic ever could.

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