Since Donald Trump’s Electoral College win a year ago, the recoil from those who didn’t agree was and remains vehement. As expected, artists were at the front of the pack in expressing their dismay at his victory. Several art exhibitions around Seattle showcased the creative response: Bonfire Gallery’s “ARTRUMPS” show featured many works with a Cheeto theme; Civilization’s “The Design of Dissent” highlighted graphic artists who used their skills to support protesting over profit.
Artists and spouses Malayka and Tom Gormally are the latest to showcase politically inspired works in the show “Present/Tense” at Spaceworks Gallery in Tacoma. A combination of paintings, drawings and sculpture highlights the strife among those on both sides of the aisle as well as those who took to the streets to express their opinions.
Mounted high on a wall are six copies of a book titled “The Apocalypse Explained.” Tom found the 19th-century book based on the book of Revelations in a secondhand store and later made a resin cast of the book using the colors in the gay pride flag. The red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple books hover above a bookshelf to enervate the teachings within its pages, namely that society’s acceptance of people who identify as LGBTQ is a sign of end times.
“It was an outlet for me,” Tom said. “It wasn’t healthy for me to keep all of the feelings that I had bottled up inside, and I felt the need to share those with people and hopefully it can create a conversation space.”
Tom’s “US” is a life-size wooden sculpture of two chairs and a table placed within a grid. The shape of a plate and utensils are etched into the wood and a small ladder serves as the centerpiece. The chairs are leaning in a clockwise motion to reflect the element of time. Tom said the everyday scene also demonstrates how divisive dialogue has seeped into every aspect of our lives. He was inspired by the contentious relationships in the 1972 film “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” by Luis Buñuel.
“There’s instability that’s happening in our government but between people too. I’ve never seen so much discord between people before,” he said. “I’ve never seen it like this even during the Vietnam years when we people were marching against the war and stuff like that. I didn’t see the divisiveness this profound.”
In this new normal we’re all experiencing, he’s had to learn how to navigate relationships with people of differing views.
Tom’s work also centers what he calls faux patriotism by using imagery such as the Old North Church in Boston. It’s the location of the “one if by land, two if by sea” signal for Paul Revere. Tom placed the symbol of independence inside an upside down map of the United States. He also addresses the wealth gap and the growing number of people who are getting left behind.
Malayka’s oil on linen paintings represent her time on the streets of Seattle at various protests which included the Womxn’s March, May Day and the counter anti-Sharia protests. She took thousands of photos, examined them and researched the symbols she saw. Her experience at the march against the Muslim ban in Westlake Park at the end of January had a profound effect on her.
“It was really emotional for me because my dad was an immigrant, and I grew up hearing a lot of stories of hardship,” Malayka said. “I felt like as a way of being with my dad in a way. They have different color skin but nevertheless my dad had all these cultural issues, you know, trying to assimilate here.”
Malayka’s father was from the Netherlands and remembers when the Nazis invaded his homeland when he was a teenager. He didn’t shield her from his experiences at that time in his life. Their family had a thriving business but had to shutter their doors.
“There’s this tale of his father basically cutting the last paycheck for everyone and going under,” she said. “There was the last winter of the war. It’s called the hunger winter and they were starving and my five-foot-10 father was down to 90 pounds. There was no food, there was no heat. They burned all the furniture. They burned all the bottom of the stairs. He said all he could do was lay down the whole day. He had no energy.”
In addition to no food, Malayka remembers her father describing how he hid from Nazis on more than one occasion when they searched the family home.
“They set up a system where they would have a button to press when the Nazis were going to come through,” she said. “He had figured out a couple hiding spaces because he was the exact age of the men they’re trying to pick up.”
Her dad was never discovered during those raids and wasn’t taken to a “work camp.” Later he made his way to the United States.
Malayka’s “Don’t Tread On Me?” takes visitors to the May Day rally at Westlake Park. One person holds a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag while a man holding a Trump flag nearby wears a shirt with the slogan “Black Guns Matter” on the front. “Barriers” shows the anti-Sharia law demonstration over the summer at City Hall. In it, two people are throwing “White power” hand signs. A man wears a shirt that reads “Jesus Saves” while another dons a “Make America Great Again” hat. Malayka superimposed an image of the gates of the Nazi concentration camp Dachau over the railing that has the phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“work will set you free”).
“You know you see these photos all the time, watch MSNBC all the time but we don’t really get what we’re looking at,” she said. “The alt right is using so much symbolism that we don’t get. And they’re all talking to each other with the symbolism. So it’s been really interesting for me to sort of learn this and, you know, hopefully when people look at the paintings, they’ll start thinking about what they’re looking at.”
Despite the rhetoric by some of the groups and their declaration of not being White supremacists, Malayka sees many similarities in their teachings and the Nazis her father talked about. Given the subject matter, crafting the works was challenging. Ultimately she chose the side of increasing awareness among those who aren’t seeking it out.
“In the sense of history paintings, we need imagery of what’s actually going on. And we need to talk about it, we need to look at it,” she said.
“Present/Tense” is a skillful summation of the current contentious state of political and interpersonal relations in our country. Malayka’s emotive works are balanced with Tom’s manipulation of utilitarian objects into animated works of art.
WHEN: Runs until Dec. 21
WHERE: Spaceworks Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave., Suite 205, Tacoma
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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