When Jonathan Ferrara was a partner at a now defunct gallery in 1995, it launched the annual No Dead Artists exhibition. Created to spotlight the work of local emerging artists, the show survived the transition to Ferrara's own gallery and now is international in scope.
It remains as quirky as ever, and its ability to surprise always has been its most consistent attribute. The surprising thing about this year's 22nd iteration is the unusual prevalence of figurative imagery that often evokes the identity politics that dominate our current political discourse. Fortunately, these artists approach it with more empathy and humor than our politicians, lending a fresh perspective to this deeply contentious topic.
Joseph Barron's Draining the Swamp painting updates traditional baroque imagery with quirky modern details including an elephant using its trunk to blast water at a woman in a miniskirt as familiar political figures cavort amid cupids and lambs in a scene that conveys the circuslike tenor of the times.
Kat Flyn courts controversy with box sculptures including Affordable Housing, which features mammy dolls in cubicles, and Trailer Park, where rustic white folk appear amid signs promoting coal, lard and Jesus. Here culture-war animus yields to a more nuanced perspective that contrasts over-worked stereotypes with broader underlying concerns.
Kerra Taylor similarly spotlights familiar-looking middle Americans in a dinner scene where a tornado looms outside a window, and sitting in a boat on an expanse of floodwater where gasping fish and an engulfed plantation house (pictured) remind us of the common challenges we all face as we coexist on an ever more volatile planet.
Other edgy ambiguous works include a photo-collage by Mash Buhtaydusss depicting a vintage image of a child in a derelict basement where Humpty Dumpty, porn stars and child action figures cavort amid grimy 1950s office furnishings in a kind of nihilistic time capsule, and Nigerian painter Rewa Umunna's casual portraits of sleek black women rendered in vivid patterning that recalls geological contour maps and iconic African fabrics, a visual mash-up true to a time when virtual realities and traditional values increasingly, often bafflingly, intermingle.
Through Sept. 28. Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., (504) 522-5471; www.jonathanferraragallery.com.