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Examining U.S. History Through Art

December 10, 2021 2:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Back in January, ClassACT produced the Zoom Forum, “When the Stage Goes Dark: Performing Arts in Covid Time.” The arts not only give us joy, but also help us understand the world we live in. The work explored here is by Linda Bond, an artist whose work explores some of the hard stuff in American history. Linda is married to our classmate Rick Brotman, an artist and a central member of the ClassACT team, and, as you will see, Rick collaborated with Linda on some of this work. Our classmate Andrea Kirsh, art critic and historian, explores Linda’s work in the commentary below and in her review of Linda's current exhibition at Drexel University. Rick has created a beautiful accompanying video of that exhibition - please take a look below.


Andrea Kirsh writes:

I knew Rick Brotman from our mutual work for ClassACT HR73, but we only met at the 2019 symposium at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs that ClassACT HR73 organized in connection with its Benazir Bhutto Leadership Program. Rick, a professional videographer, was covering the event. There I also met Rick’s wife, Linda Bond, and discovered she was an artist whose work addressed U.S. activities and policies in the Middle East and a variety of social justice themes. She has worked on several projects involving video and the web in collaboration with Rick, one with women in Afghanistan.

My own interests in art are broad, but I have a strong interest in artists who address current social and political topics with work that is largely outside of the art market. Such work is rarely covered by commercial art publications which depend on advertising, so to show and circulate their work artists must find small, not-for profit and artist-run spaces, public libraries with exhibition programs, sympathetic community organizations, university galleries and museums which are not beholden to board members, and non-profit publications .

Since 2006 I’ve been writing criticism for Artblog, a Philadelphia-based web publication committed to covering the breadth of art produced in Philadelphia and elsewhere, with no consideration for its marketability. It covers work exhibited in coffee shops, in artists’ homes which function as occasional galleries, in artist-run spaces, in public or commercial spaces lent to artists for special projects and in the various circumstances which enterprising artists find to exhibit their work to the public, as well as the more conventional galleries, art centers and museums. There is a lot of art being produced that deserves attention. I consider it my service to the field to broaden the range of artwork that receives critical attention as well as to bring some art historical perspective to work being shown, since few art writers have studied art history nor have most artists, even those who teach.

I was excited to learn that Linda had two upcoming projects in Philadelphia: a large survey of twenty years of her work at the gallery at Drexel University, a showing which I reviewed for Artblog, and an installation at Eastern State Penitentiary, a historic site that addresses the history of criminal justice reform and current questions of equity in the criminal justice system.

Eastern State has commissioned artists to produce work for its grounds since 1995, selecting those whose proposals address the organization’s themes. Linda sited her piece, Deadly Weapons, in one of the small penitentiary cells whose walls had remnants of peeling plaster and paint. At first glance the cell had been brightened with reflective silver flooring and both the spare cot in its center and the wall behind were covered with textiles in the bright colors of Mexican festival decorations. Bond used beauty as a seduction to tell viewers the story of immigrants from South and Central America detained at the U.S. Southern border who are taken into custody and have their shoelaces removed so they cannot run away and the laces can’t be used as “deadly weapons.” Placed in detention with only Mylar blankets for warmth, they are released into Mexico to await hearings and their shoelaces are not returned. As a result, they sometimes make new shoelaces out of strips of the Mylar which Bond had woven with shoelaces to make her cover for the cot. She had used more shoelaces as a makeshift curtain at the back wall. That wrenching twist, when the seduction of her materials and technique is confronted with the grimness of her subject, is characteristic of Bond’s method. Like all the best art of a political nature, hers raises questions but doesn’t provide answers. And like the best political artworks, her questions are impossible to ignore.

Linda’s work at Drexel will be showing through February 20th, 2022, and her installation at Eastern State Penitentiary will be open through the spring. 

Rick has also produced the following video about the 20- year retrospective at Drexel.

Link to video: Errors and Omissions - Linda Bond 

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