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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Virtual gallery doesn’t ‘Soften’ art’s impact

By Audrey Overstreet For The Spokesman-Review

Is being “soft” powerful? How can “soft” ways build strength? These are just some of the questions that June T. Sanders and Krista Brand, guest curators from Washington State University, pose in a new group show titled “Soften.”

To celebrate the power of softness, Brand and Sanders have gathered a dozen works by diverse artists Sarah Barnett, Jessica Earle, Sydney McLeod, Nadiya Nacorda, Morganne Radziewicz, Mica Lillith Smith and Azzah Sultan. The artworks display softness of form and aesthetics within a variety of mediums, including video, painting, printmaking and collage.

“The word ‘softness’ is an idea that can contain multitudes,” said Sanders, a prize-winning curator, photographer, writer and assistant professor at WSU. “Softness can be a color palette; softness can be a way of relating to each other; softness can be a form of harnessing your own power.”

Strength and power through softness is an exhilarating concept, especially now, as the world navigates a landscape of global pandemic and systemic racism.

“Soften” co-curator Brand, who is an academic coordinator in fine arts at WSU, is an artist whose own works deal with the aesthetics of trash in urban environments. One of the questions she said the Chase Gallery show seeks to explore is: “What is the value in soft ways of relating to ourselves and others, for example, care, comfort, belonging, feeling, compassion and warmth?”

One of the photographs in the show by Nacorda, a Blasian artist based in Syracuse, New York, exudes this quiet “soft” power. The picture captures an intimate moment between the artist and her grandmother, who appear to be napping while lightly holding each other. The sun streaming on their bodies seems lit from within, as though the energy were extending out from them instead of upon them. Could this soft moment be more than just resting, rather a version of “powering up” instead?

Examining this photo in the context of the artist’s own experiences and those of her family members from the Philippines and South Africa brings another layer of complexity to the concept of softness. How do the violent histories of colonization, apartheid and oppression in her family’s home countries manifest in the artist’s daily life moving through the world as a Black/Asian woman?

How does she protect herself, and even thrive and grow, amid this backdrop? Family appears important. Softness appears to strengthen.

North Texas-based artist Smith has three works in the exhibition, all digital images printed on satin and draped on the walls of the Chase to accentuate the softness of the materials. Her work focuses on the power of femme aesthetics, specifically those connected to trans female self-preservation and survival.

In Smith’s “The Chest Holds,” feminine hands touch their own body’s torso. One hand holds a pill, but what kind of medicine is it?

“Smith does have a lot of Easter eggs in her work, which is one of the reasons we are attracted to it,” Sanders said. “How people relate to her pieces, and all of these pieces in the show, will have a lot to do with the viewers’ own experiences, with their own ideas of gender or racial realities, and how they grew up in a certain way or move in the world with a certain identity.”

Overall, the show is a celebration of softness and the feminine aesthetic. Brand said she hopes the exhibition helps audiences identify ways in which ingrained systems of patriarchal achievement in how we work, or in how we relate to others, oppress or disconnect us from ourselves. “I’m interested in finding ways of using self-care as power,” Brand said.

There is a long history of artists celebrating softness and femininity while simultaneously displaying, and even boasting, of their strength and power. Maya Angelou’s 1978 poem “Phenomenal Woman” explains “Now you understand just why my head’s not bowed. I don’t shout or jump or have to talk real loud … It’s in the click of my heels, The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, The need for my care. ’Cause I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal Woman, That’s me.”

More events

Also happening for virtual First Friday is La Resistance’s LGBTQ+ show “Apocalypto Pantones,” with artists Ivy Scott, Sawyer Ralph, Charlie Milo, Chloe Farmin, Jewels Dietrich, Maureen Jones-Smith, LauraLee White, Kai Willard, Jenny Watson, Van Parsons, Jeremiah Keevy and Amber Hoit. Join the Zoom party art opening on Friday with the password 536701 starting at 5 p.m.

Artist Roin Morigeau of Yes Is a Feeling Gallery is opening a new solo exhibition this First Friday that can be viewed from the outside of the Wonder Building. Starting at 5 p.m., art-goers can visit and watch Morigeau paint in real time by looking into the windows on the northwest side of the parking garage near Lincoln and Mallon avenues. The show “Pow Wow Song Series” centers around Morigeau’s own need for connection to their culture (as a descendant of the Flathead Salish Tribe of Montana) and to their drumming practice during quarantine.

For those hungry for more non-virtual art happenings, the community’s second “Art on the Go” show is scheduled for this Saturday. From 11 a.m.-4 p.m., art-goers can drive by to check out and purchase works from more than 100 artists displaying their pieces from their front yards and home studios. For a full list of artists and a map of where to drive to find their treasures, go to Art on the Go’s Facebook page.