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The President of the United States gave his first annual State of the Union Address one week ago, a rosy accounting of how he made America great again in short order – in fact, faster than anyone in the history of the world. To his chagrin, only one-half of the Congressional audience acknowledged this feat – perhaps the sound of one hand clapping? And notwithstanding a heartfelt “response” from the Democrats, the President seems to have ignored a few details, along with vast numbers of Americans. Never one to shy away from controversy, Gallery Kayafas in Boston’s SoWa arts district has mounted a lively rebuttal, State of the Union, its own reckoning featuring provocative photographs by Kevin Bubriski, Caleb Cole, Harold Edgerton, Judy Haberl, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Steve Locke, and Daniel Ranalli, on view through March 3rd, 2018.
The President’s mission to “Make America Great Again” has entailed a great deal of frenzied flag waving, like ordering a flashy parade of military might and vainly attempting to quash personal protest during the national anthem. With his crude strategy of divide and conquer, he has overlooked those whose patriotism speaks of a nation standing together, eloquently expressed in Kevin Bubriski’s “Garage with Flag”, part of his American Road series exploring a shared sense of national pride.
As part of his “America First” approach to foreign policy, the President has apparently lost sight of the costs and consequences of war, divulging an itchy finger with veiled threats to use his “big button” and invoke consequences “like the world has never seen.” Not surprisingly this has unnerved many in America and abroad. “Lest You Forget”, Caleb Cole’s WWII military jacket filled with cutout silhouettes representing missing soldiers is an affecting reminder of war’s personal toll, while Harold Edgerton’s “Atomic Bomb” shows the eerie devastation of nuclear warfare, with the plume of a Cold War test bomb surreally resembling a hollowed out human skull.
The demonization of those who aren’t considered to be “like us” has a long and ugly tradition in our nation, one the President pledged to uphold, touting promises of immigration reform and a border wall with Mexico, our second largest trading partner. A scary reminder of the tactics employed to conjure fear is displayed in the photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris, noted for his decades of incisive documentary imagery of the Black community in Pittsburgh. Steve Locke uses searing irony to recall an earlier time, when Black lynchings often coincided with celebratory Sunday family picnics.
Despite the rising tide of deadly shooting sprees visited upon innocent people, the President did not call for greater gun control. Alluring photograms of children’s water pistols by Daniel Ranalli remind us how early and effectively guns are marketed in our culture. And finally, in his State of the Union address, the President somehow failed to make any mention of the sweeping #MeToo movement expressing women’s anger over ubiquitous, unchecked sexual harassment. Whether a gross oversight or a calculated attempt to avoid pointing a finger at his own famously boorish behavior toward women, Gallery Kayafas has invited Judy Haberl to put a fine point on it with her series “Hidden Agendas.”
Gallery Kayafas invites political discourse through engagement with the artwork in their timely State of the Union group show. Join the conversation through March 3rd, 2018. For hours, directions and more information, go to: http://www.gallerykayafas.com/
Feature Image: “Roberta, 2010” (Detail) from the series Hidden Agendas by Judy Haberl (courtesy of the artist and Gallery Kayafas, Boston).