Just Desserts 

On display: art that bears witness.

To fully experience Delta Axis @ Marshall Art's current exhibition "Activation," you had to be there opening night eating cake and looking at brutal images of war.

Creatures flayed beyond recognition were strewn across a butcher block in Rob Canfield's savage, beautiful oil Slaughterhouse, and the figure that screamed in Canfield's Thin Red Line looked like the old woman undone by treachery in Bronzino's 16th-century masterwork Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.

Jonathan Yablonski's sleek, 21st-century image of war hung on the opposite wall. Slender lines soared skyward and narrowed at the top of a black skyscraper backdropped by a blood red sky. A human skeleton as large as the high-rise brought to mind the hordes of humanity whose toil and blood build economic and military empires.

In her mixed-media collage, Native, Leila Hamdan painted what it feels like to be hidden away, shamed, and treated like disposable property. A woman totally covered by a black burka, except for eyes that smoldered with rage and regret, shapeshifted into the thick neck, squat torso and stubby legs of a work-horse.

Conceptual artist Sanjit Sethi baked three large cakes for viewers, including one titled "Axis of Evil," which was decorated with silhouettes of North Korea, Iraq, and Iran. We ate the cake from paper plates that were imprinted with the American flag.

Colored pencils and John Morris' sardonic color-it-yourself print Coloring Colonialism lay on a table against the far back wall. Some viewers added a line or a touch of color to bear witness to the horror depicted. Some viewers turned away. Others, intoxicated by this show's heady mix of celebration, patriotism, and brutality, colored the scene in ways that further debased the men and women being burned alive by Spanish Conquistadors.

The cakes have been eaten, but the provocative, brutally honest paintings and prints are still on view.

At Delta Axis @ Marhall Arts through November 3rd

click to enlarge Rob Canfield's Thin Red Line at Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts
  • Rob Canfield's Thin Red Line at Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts

Emotional battles are fought in Memphis College of Arts' exhibition, "Threads 11x1, Eleven Artists A Single Vision."

We see the inner turmoil in Gwyneth Scally's sienna-red painting Raven, in which a woman howls, tears at her flesh, and tries to crawl out of her skin as her left foot morphs into a bird of prey. We see foreboding in the stern, sad face of a little girl whose left arm is tied to a billowing black cloud in Emily Kalwaitis' pencil and acrylic wash titled Held. Kristin Martincic's ceramic sculptures are filled with unresolved longing. Two white legs in Waiting materialize out of an equally white wall, bend at the knees, and strain to touch the plot of real grass just beyond reach on the floor below.

Conceptual artist and writer Buzz Spector tops off these hauntingly noir works with Black Waterfall, a mixed-media sculpture in which tattered threads unravel and cascade down seven feet of black denim, bringing to mind torn curtains and pierced veils. Instead of white light, Spector and the other artists in this exhibition explore the shadows, the unresolved angers and fears, the dark clouds that gather inside and above us all.

At MCA through November 8th

Running in conjunction with this weekend's RiverArtsFest in South Main is the "RiverArtsFest Invitational Exhibition" at Jay Etkin Gallery. Roger Cleaves' robotic, cartoon-like characters skulk, stalk, strangle, and stab each other across every square inch of his paintings. In sharp contrast to Cleaves' sly satire, Cynthia Thompson sculpts delicate understated paper works that tell us about the quiet, gentle wisdom of the body, and Ian Lemmonds' images of plastic toys combined with evocative light create a tableau of possibility and joy. At Jay Etkin Gallery, October 26th-October 28th

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