Madeline Wheeler on U Thot U Knew at the Copycat Building Annex
There’s no better time than Valentine’s Day—a holiday targeted towards women and dedicated to commercialized concepts of starry-eyed love and “sexy” lingerie—to open a show celebrating and critiquing the female gender.
U Thot U Knew presented work by sixteen female artists and according to the exhibition description—‘thot’ being an acronym for ‘that hoe over there’—aimed to explore “female empowerment and solidarity” in real life and online. The work varied in medium, including painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography, and was scattered around the large industrial gallery space haphazardly. Despite the lengthy list of featured artists, the works were almost all small-format, and the gallery looked eerily barren.
No exhibit exploring women and pop culture would be complete without mention of selfie queen and paparazzi magnet Kim Kardashian. Shana Sadeghi-Ray’s large-scale collage presents two photographs of the socialite being tackled by a male fan in a swarm of paparazzi. In the photographs, Kardashian has been stripped of her well-practiced smile, and appears genuinely frightened, her mouth open wide. These images are mounted against a gray scale photograph of an undecipherable natural landscape. The piece is framed by light blue paper balls and streamers that reference “It’s a Boy!” baby shower decorations.
While Sadeghi-Ray’s commentary on Kim Kardashian—a reminder that she, too, is human under the packaged gloss—is clear and one that has been made before, the juxtaposition of images and materials are problematic. The dissociative background and frivolous blue streamers do little to seriously comment on Kardashian.
The celebrity’s central status in the piece is laughable, and her ridiculous facial expressions distract from the work’s nuanced meaning. Yet, perhaps there isn’t any deeper meaning, and the work merely exists—like Kim herself—for purely aesthetic reasons.
Unlike Sadeghi-Ray, illustrator Vivian Loh’s “Yum” series is an obvious critique of depictions of women in Japanese advertisements. Loh recreates three ads that each feature photographs of different Asian women happily consuming traditional Japanese treats. The women don schoolgirl-like clothing and appear to be innocently enjoying their snacks, yet one holds a phallic soda bottle and the other suggestively holds a biscuit stick in her mouth. Loh’s works dwell on the media’s sexualization of Asian women, and their subjection to the fetishizing male gaze.
Sanam Sindhi’s showcased drawings of nude women of color adored with exclamations “Keep Your Privilege Away From My Pussy!” and “Not Yours” that contemplate the effects of patriarchy and the white male gaze. Unfortunately, their presentation—adhered to the wall with gold heart-shaped pushpins—diminishes their message to a more juvenile status. The drawings were clearly hung in a hurried manner and their corners are bent, making them feel as if their inclusion was an afterthought.
While Loh and Sindhi’s pieces project a distinct female commentary, others’ work remains shrouded in ambiguity. Sculptor Olivia McGavisk’s ceramic sculpture—a fence-like structure made of blue curved rods and plastic cable ties—rests against a beam awkwardly, as if discarded and easily goes unnoticed, as it doesn’t fit with the rest of the show’s gendered focus. It is not evident if the large velvet rose hung on a gallery wall is part of the exhibit or just a festive decoration in honor of Valentine’s Day. It could even satisfy both criteria.
Throughout the show, artists’ names are not attached to their work and can only be found in the show’s zine style—available for purchase for $4—still it is difficult to distinguish who is responsible for each work. Although this may just be an attempt to present female narratives as a collective, it remains frustrating as it creates confusion as to what work was made by whom and if works placed alongside each other belonged to the same artist.
If presenting a female perspective on the current state of womanhood was the goal, then the exhibition has serious deficits. While the exhibition clearly succeeded in showcasing work produced exclusively by women—an underrepresented population in the art world—not all work called popular concepts of femininity into question. Or, if the work was attempting to do so, the message was not always evident. The exhibit’s mission statement says that the works display the artists’ “untold narratives” yet these narratives and their relationship to “female empowerment and solidarity” are, in most pieces, concealed beneath confusing media or subject matter choices. The thread that pulled the show together—other than the artists’ shared gender—remained unrealized.
U Thot U Knew
419 East Oliver Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
Madeline Wheeler is a Baltimore-based writer from San Francisco enamored with ALLOVERSTREET and art documentaries. When she is not secluded to her apartment writing, she can be found dancing at The Crown or finding the latest pho place.