CULTURE

‘No Human Involved’: Art by sex workers tells a complex story

The "No Human Involved: The Fifth Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show" turns the tables on a dehumanizing term

By KYLE COHLMIA

“No Human Involved” is a slang term coined by Los Angeles police in the 1980s to signify the murder of sex workers, drug users, gang members and transients, the majority of those from Black and Brown populations. The term, while inherently used to dehumanize the violence inflicted upon these marginalized communities, has been turned around by artists in No Human Involved: The Fifth Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show to bring awareness to a specific issues of oppression.

Spearheaded by STROLL PDX, a sex worker-led activist organization, this year’s exhibition is at Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA), running through December 14. The exhibit features work by 16 artists, a selection curated from a competitive international open call by Kat Salas and Matilda Bickers of STROLL PDX and Roya Amirsoleymani, artistic director and curator at PICA.

Installation view of No Human Involved: The Fifth Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show/Photo courtesy of PICA

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Spaces: At Shop La Familia hip hop digs in

Shop La Familia was started by Swiggle Mandela as an outpost for hip hop in a hostile city

By CHRISTEN McCURDY

It takes some effort to find Shop La Familia.

It’s on a stretch of North Lombard Avenue between the Interstate Fred Meyer and the much-loved King Burrito taqueria. It’s also a few blocks away from the kind of natural grocery store that’s often a harbinger of gentrification.

From the street, the spot looks like a row of quiet office buildings occupied mostly by union locals. But if you walk to the back of the building to the nondescript gravel parking lot, through propped-open industrial doors and and head down the stairs, you’ll find what local rapper Swiggle Mandela has planted underground.

The Art of Space
An occasional series on places and prices in the arts world. In an escalating real estate market, how and where do artists and arts groups find suitable and affordable places to make and show their work?

Shop La Familia is a retail space, an erstwhile music venue and a community space for a loose collective of artists connected with Portland’s hip-hop scene. In a city where rapidly escalating real estate prices have put a squeeze on cultural spaces in Portland, La Familia is creating a space of its own, in a historically black, but rapidly gentrifying part of town.

“Every show, every gathering that we’ve done there, it’s like, I get to say, ‘This is literally underground hip-hop,’” says Michael Gaines, who raps as Figure 8 and usually just goes by Fig. He moved to Portland from Detroit about five years ago.


Swiggle Mandela at his store and art space, Shop La Familia & the Coop, in North Portland/Photo by Christen McCurdy

“We’re doing hip-hop underground in Portland right now and no matter how good or bad this goes, this is what it’s about,” Figure 8 explains. “All those interviews where you see people talking about, ‘I went to every open mic, everything, we had to start our own thing, we had to start our own clubs, we had to give back,’ it just feels very reminiscent of what the good parts of hip-hop are and I think that’s why we keep doing it.”

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Hank Willis Thomas: How to unmake race

The Portland Art Museum has staged the first retrospective of Hank Willis Thomas, who addresses the complexity of race in America in "All Things Being Equal..."

The neon above the main entrance of the Portland Art Museum reads “LOVERULES.” Illuminated in different combinations, it reads both “love overules” and “love over rules.” The neon work, loaned by Jordan Schnitzer, sets the tone for Hank Willis Thomas’s show All Things Being Equal… that opened October 12 and will run through January 12, 2020. 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976), Loverules, 2019. Neon. Courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer. © Hank Willis Thomas, photo courtesy of Portland Art Museum

Thomas is a photographer and conceptual artist whose work explores race, the language of advertising, and the power of images to shape culture and historical narrative. All Things Being Equal… is his first major retrospective. It brings together 15 years of the artist’s work and cements Thomas’s role as an artist who asks questions and poses answers about American history and the American present.

The show is a big moment for the Portland Art Museum and co-curators Julia Dolan and Sara Krajewski. To host this sort of retrospective for an artist of this status establishes the museum as an important venue for contemporary art. The show has been written up in the New York Times, Artnet, and the Observer, which stated “this show unequivocally places the Portland Art Museum in Oregon on the contemporary art map.” It is the culmination of several years of work for Dolan and Krajewski, who, in addition to curating the show, secured funding from multiple prestigious sources and co-authored a handsome catalog with Aperture. It is equally an opportunity for viewers to consider images and race in a different way.

Though his work deals with race and Thomas contends that there is no stronger power in the universe than Black joy, he is equally adamant that race is an invention or myth designed to justify inequality and to propel stereotypes into widespread assumptions about how people are. Thomas says of race, “it is only real because we were taught to make it real.”

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Photo First: Profiles in Gender

Photographer Dee Moore shares the stories of 10 artists (including herself) who are outside the binary norm


PHOTOGRAPHS AND STORY BY DEE MOORE


For me it all ended when I was eight years old and screaming that I was a boy and begging to be allowed to go to the boys’ bathroom at a posh restaurant. My mother told me I had to use the girls’ bathroom because I was a girl. I said no, I am going to grow a penis. I am going to be a boy. But I was told in no uncertain terms that day that I was not going to ever grow a penis. I was going to stay a girl.

I never felt comfortable in girls’ clothes. I was happiest in T-shirts, sneakers or boots, short hair, and no makeup. But I had a greater desire to fit in so I learned to apply makeup, to wear women’s clothing, to do my hair and to conform. Though try as I might, this didn’t last long. Like pulling on a costume or plastering up a façade,  it came off or it cracked and I returned to T-shirts, ripped jeans and boots. The only thing that really stuck was the makeup.

Dee Moore

Growing up in Southeast Texas in the ’80s there really weren’t words at the time for the way I felt, the angst and discomfort that gnawed away at me. It was easier to understand that I was bisexual than it was that I was caught somewhere between male and female. But all of those things were shoved into a deep dark closet thanks to culture, environment, religion and hate. It took awhile to unpack it all.

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Farewell, my sweet gibassier

After 23 years the Pearl Bakery's ovens are shutting down, and a small but vital slice of Portland's culture is disappearing with them

EARTH-SHATTERING NEWS ARRIVED JUST AFTER THANKSGIVING – at least, shattering on my little slice of Oregon turf: Pearl Bakery, a 23-year mainstay on a tucked-away corner of close-in Northwest Portland that feels not quite Old Portland but not quite Pearl District, either, announced that it was shutting its doors immediately. Deliveries of baked goods to wholesale outlets will continue through Dec. 10.

The glorious gibassier: Thanks for the memories.

Pearl Bakery might’ve been known for its breads and sandwiches and pastries and a pretty good cup of coffee, but it also held a small yet special space in the city’s cultural fabric. Settled onto a quiet edge of comfort a block north of Burnside and a block west of the North Park Blocks, it was part of a quick-stroll triangle that stretches from Powell’s City of Books, to The Armory (home of Portland Center Stage), to Waterstone Gallery on the same block as the bakery, to the gallery row of Augen, Froelick, Charles A. Hartman, Blue Sky, and the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, with several other leading galleries just a slightly brisker walk away. It wasn’t unusual to see someone with a fresh stack of books from Powell’s sitting at a table with a cappuccino and a sandwich and a loaf to go, or a little clutch of artists stopping in for coffee and a pastry and a chat. 

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The art of giving, large and small

It's not just an action but a process, as big as a sea lion and as small as a salmonberry

The act of giving can be so simple and yet so complex. Giving in a sense that is not just good cheer, but something deeper and nuanced and more layered. It’s not just a word, but an entire etiquette. It’s not just a formality, but a way of life.

It’s a matter of respect, a shared experience, an exchange of goodwill, a nod to humility, a deference, a show of appreciation, a payback, a responsibility, a form of courage, an act of selflessness. It’s what matters most and gives meaning. Go deeper. Go higher. A language unto itself. A conversation.

All these words are important, and each is different.

Sara Siestreem (Hanis Coos), aretha franklin (1942-2018) reins supreme dance cap, yellow cedar bark (Kodiak, AK): Vickie Era; black berry and beet dye (Columbia River, OR); red cedar bark (Kingcome, British Columbia): Marianne Nicolson; salmon vertebrae (Kingcome, B.C.); sweet grass: Theresa Secord; spruce root (North Spit of Jordan Cove, Coos Bay, OR); glass and shell beads: Amazon, the world.
Sara Siestreem (Hanis Coos), aretha franklin (1942-2018) reins supreme dance cap, yellow cedar bark (Kodiak, AK): Vickie Era; black berry and beet dye (Columbia River, OR); red cedar bark (Kingcome, British Columbia): Marianne Nicolson; salmon vertebrae (Kingcome, B.C.); sweet grass: Theresa Secord; spruce root (North Spit of Jordan Cove, Coos Bay, OR); glass and shell beads: Amazon, the world.

A trip to the Oregon Coast a while back got me thinking about all that, and has stayed with me for more than a year. What does it mean “to give?” It’s all about a balance in the universe, but it’s not simply to balance out “to get,” and certainly not “to take.” But what does it mean to give in a sense that achieves an equilibrium?

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The medium is the mask

The Chehalem Cultural Center fills its galleries with masks by Tony Fuemmeler and others depicting human emotions, anthropomorphic animals, and one evil bunny

The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg is closing out the year with an extraordinary exhibit (four exhibits, actually, it just feels like one) that virtually anyone – even those who don’t usually visit galleries — will find intriguing.

The subject is the human face and the oceans of meaning the face either reveals or conceals. The medium is the mask — hundreds of them.

Tony Fuemmeler’s Evil Bunny is a character from Grand Guignol, the Paris theater famous for staging horror stories (paper-mache, acrylic, fleece, fabric, wire). Photo by: David Bates
Tony Fuemmeler’s “Evil Bunny” is a character from Grand Guignol, the Paris theater famous for staging horror stories (papier-mâché, acrylic, fleece, fabric, wire). Photo by: David Bates

More than two years in the making, A Universal Feeling is a collaborative effort spearheaded by Portland mask-maker and theater artist Tony Fuemmeler and featuring work by more than 60 artists from around the United States and the world. The intellectual seeds of the project go back to the 1960s, when a group of psychologists suggested that a few universal facial expressions convey emotions understood across the entirety of human culture: fear, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, and disgust.

Fuemmeler, whose masks have appeared on stages up and down the West Coast and around the country, gave around 70 fellow mask-makers a task. He sent them a papier-mâché mask based on one of the six expressions and asked them to complete it, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on whatever identity, styles, experiences, and cultures inform their work.

The results are stunning, fascinating, playful, and occasionally disturbing. “It was an experiment,” he told me as we strolled through the exhibit recently. “I had no idea what would happen. I was very curious how people would respond.”

Respond they did, and alongside three other mask-themed exhibits that fill the center until Jan. 3, the exhibit is a riveting exploration of inner life as conveyed by the simultaneously simple and complex image of the face as rendered by a mask — an art form that goes back to ancient times.

Beth Bondy created Surprise 07: Paper Insect from cardstock scraps. Photo by: David Bates
Beth Bondy created “Surprise 07: Paper Insect” from cardstock scraps. Photo by: David Bates

“I have long admired Tony’s work, and have had the pleasure of playing his masks onstage in several settings,” said Sean Andries, executive director of Chehalem Cultural Center, in the press materials. “The ability of a well-crafted mask, full of life, to reveal the true sense of the performer who wears it has always transfixed me. When I heard about Tony’s vision for A Universal Feeling, coupled with an exhibit of his mask-making journey with Reveal/Conceal, I was immediately intrigued. By collaborating with artists from many cultures and backgrounds to ‘finish’ the masks he created for this special project, Tony has found a new way to reveal the nature of the artist within.”

Andries refers to Fuemmeler’s other exhibit, Reveal/Conceal: The Transformative Masks of Tony Fuemmeler, a selection of his own work, including some of his earliest pieces. Most are human, but some are not, and one is, arguably, both: Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes an appearance. All, he points out, were made for and used on the stage. This is the first time Fuemmeler has shown his masks in a gallery exhibit. It is a welcome debut.

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