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H2O/2O Elemental Retribution exhibit at Gallery C3 explores an age-old conflict: man vs nature

 By Charlie Leonard

Cover photo: HNin Nie

July 16, 2020

“What are these things that come out of the natural world to punish us?” 

That’s the question Janelle Dunlap, the Guest Curator for the H2O/2O Elemental Retribution exhibit, seeks to answer. Dunlap’s artistic vision has evolved to become equal parts curator and social practice artist— an artist focusing on the intersection of society and justice— through her experience. She spent ten years working at various nonprofit organizations in the Charlotte area, witnessing social justice issues firsthand before becoming a full-time artist three years ago. Dunlap’s background drives her work as a curator, a role that she believes will make the most impact on highlighting the experience of marginalized groups.

H2O/2O curator Janelle Dunlap. Photo: HNin Nie

To develop her curatorial acumen, Dunlap applied and received entry into two different MFA programs. One program is with the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, a city in which she splits her time. Another is a new, inaugural Social and Environmental Arts program at Prescott College in Arizona directed by Patrisse Cullors, a prominent co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. Dunlap sees her current curatorial role as “pulling out those social truths that people have assumed don’t exist,” concurrently bringing artists’ work to an elevated space.

H2O/2O Elemental Retribution is Dunlap’s artistic vision on display. Originally, the primary focus of the exhibit was to spotlight the socio-political ramifications of water, influenced by the eight-year anniversary of the Flint, MI water crisis. It’s still the overarching theme, but the exhibit has expanded its focus to include the most prominent natural struggle of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic may seem like a distraction from the thematic intentions of the exhibit, Dunlap believes it’s the opposite. She believes that COVID-19 has elevated the meaning, heightening the idea of punishment being executed on society through the natural world. 

Brainwashing Machine, 2020, Scott Summers

The resulting works highlight this sentiment, primarily consisting of contemporary hybrid art pieces that address water, COVID-19, and humanity’s response to them. The most direct may be a brainwashing machine by Scott Summers, something that Dunlap says was directly inspired by COVID. Another example is a work by Tanya Scruggs Ford featuring a sculpture that’s in a mask which also acts as a headdress. The intent is to blend cultures while wearing something “ceremonial,” which is intended for heightened or important times, Dunlap explained. 

Arguably the most hybrid of the hybrid art pieces is MyLoan Dinh’s “One Nation for All” piece. Inspired by her experience immigrating to America from Vietnam (literally over water), Dinh’s piece is an assembling of red, white, and blue life vests and white whistles combined to represent the American flag. Dunlap sees the piece as challenging the claim of American sanctuary, contrasting the typical American dream of immigrants to the reality of America’s loss of sanctuary status. 

One Nation…For ALL 2018, MyLoan Dinh Courtesy of Elder Gallery for Contemporary Art

In addition to the artists listed above, there will be eight other artists featured in the exhibit: Anderson Brasilero, Ajane’ K. Williams, Jonathan Cooper, Dammit Wesley, Malik J. Norman, Helms Jarrell, Cedric Umoja, and Madison Elaine. The artists are a collection of talents from three primary locations: the Carolinas, Chicago, and California.

No tickets are being sold for the show, but you can email Janelle directly to schedule a private tour. The tours will be co-hosted by Dunlap and specific artists from the exhibition. Only eight to ten people are being allowed at a time due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The dates of these tours are as followed: 

  • Thursday, July 16, 6-7 p.m., Anderson Brasilero 
  • Friday, July 17, 6-7 p.m., A’jane Williams and Malik J Norman (college night) 
  • Friday, July 24, 6-8 p.m., Cederic Umoja, Performance and Artist talk 
  • Wednesday, July 29, 6-7 p.m., Helms Jarrell, Guest Curator David Butler 

For more information, check out the event page at C3-Lab.com

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