Saturday Night, I was able to get to Unsmoke Systems in Braddock and was treated to an amazing show which I didn't document visually. Zoe McCloskey, is an artist from, I think NY who done art projects in Belize, Argentina, Mexico and El Salvador and now moved to Pittsburgh. She and her brother started a residency program for writers called Cyberpunkapocalypse in Lawrenceville. She shares the gallery with a classmate from Cooper Union named Firelei Baez.
Firelei's work was mysterious, sometimes funny, and visually stunning. She's obviously got talent, imagination and skills to burn but these works go far beyond just visual display. Lush, ornate and often over the top, combinations of sensual, and biological images prevail many of which trace to Afro Caribbean folklore. But as she states, her purpose seems to always blur definitions and identities.
"My artwork consists of paintings, drawings, and prints that regard my physical self, my personal history, and Caribbean folklore. Afro-Caribbean folklore allows for malleability in the creation of the self, but I find my status as an Afro-Latina in the United States static and limiting in comparison. In response, I try to disrupt the current system of social categorization through the creation of characters that refuse definition. My artworks depict characters of indeterminate race, signified by their facial features, colorless skin, and hairstyles representative of ethnic hair. These men and women are interacting with predatory birds and finches: eating them, being plucked by them, admiring them, fighting them, scared of them, and unaware of them. In Caribbean folklore any part of the body represents the soul, especially hair. It is necessary to protect ones soul by making sure that any hair that is shed does not wind up in the hands of others. If a bird picks up ones hair and incorporates it into it’s nest, then the person’s soul is placed in limbo. I use this symbolically loaded scenario, among others, to metaphorically illustrate the multiplicities and hypocrisies that make up the current discussion about race and class within popular culture. "
Zoe's work which was mostly hung at the gallery's center had much less visual force. A lot of it seemed to involve large blowups of personal poetry/writing and several letters and notes written to her. A lot of the poems, in english or spanish were pretty strong and that gave it a slowly resonating power as the words linked to their arrangements on the page and interaction with her imagery. I felt I should have looked closer.
Luckily, the Post Gazette posted this video on the show.