Art has always been a means of expression, dialog and dissent.
But perhaps more than ever these days, it’s important to keep in mind art’s capacity to heal — and a new exhibition at the Pelican Bomb Gallery X space on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in Central City seeks to provide an opportunity for just that.
“Mutual Support” includes the work of several artists whose work engages various issues of individual and community wellness, healing and care and “address(es) the connection between physical, social, and spiritual well-being,” according to a news release.
“Given the importance and timeliness of discussions around mental health, wellness and collectivity in our country, we wanted to invite artists with different approaches and perspectives to explore how to create healthier and more caring communities” said Cameron Shaw, Pelican Bomb executive director.
As such, while small in scale and relatively focused in scope, the show encompasses a surprisingly broad range of media.
One highlight is a film piece and installation built around an eight-month-long project in which Chicago-based artist Nick Cave collaborated with community groups in Shreveport to produce a multimedia performance event, which also included the participation of bounce icon Big Freedia and more than 75 artists from northwest Louisiana.
“Nick is one of the most renowned living artists in the world and he was working closely with residents and social service agencies serving youth, homeless people, people living with HIV and AIDS and people with mental disabilities in Shreveport,” Shaw Said. “I had the privilege of traveling several times to be a part of the project and it was abundantly clear how it transformed and touched lives.”
Filmmaker Evan Falbaum produced the hour-long documentary about the performance on view in the exhibition, and it’s worth making some time to watch as Cave’s astounding Soundsuits (which have been shown in New Orleans at shows at the Newcomb Art Museum and Contemporary Arts Center in recent years) share space with a series of elaborately beaded blankets created by Shreveport residents to symbolize their life experiences and burdens.
The blankets were draped over Cave’s recumbent body in the performance and came to life as Cave arose and dragged the pieces offstage. A mannequin serves as proxy for the artist in the Pelican Bomb show, but the blankets retain their literal and figuratively weighty presence.
In the back of the gallery, Saul Robbins’s photographs depict spaces in and around New Orleans — like community centers and therapist’s offices — in which healing encounters take place. Often visually mundane on the surface, they are conceptually transformed by the potentially transformative experiences that take place within them.
The photographs surround a seating area (courtesy of West Elm) that will provide a setting for an interactive component of the show that will take place over its duration.
“As part of Saul’s project, Pelican Bomb is hosting a pop-up wellness center in the gallery on Saturdays to offer a space for conversation as a form of healing,” said Charlie Tatum, Pelican Bomb editorial and communications manager. “Practitioners from different backgrounds, including artists, counselors and even massage and movement therapists are leading one-on-one appointments to discuss any topic of your choice and to share techniques for self-care.”
Elsewhere in the show, a panel from Rachel Wallis’s community quilt project incorporating the names and ages of individuals killed by Chicago police or while in police custody simultaneously comforts and unsettles.
And Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s series of sensitively rendered but penetrating drawings depicting her mother’s struggle with bipolar disorder, accompanied by an audio recording of a conversation between them, aims to destigmatize mental illness and brings the concept of self-care to a personal and relatable level.
Fazlalizadeh also will participate in a talk during the final weekend of the exhibition addressing the particular issues faced by women of color.
But anyone who visits “Mutual Support” will also find reminders that art can be a source of strength when the going gets tough — or at least help point you in the right direction to find some.