‘Un-Common-Place’ at CHS explores life experiences

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — With a deliberately ambiguous title, three local artists took unique approaches to exploring common experiences in the exhibit “Un-Common-Place,” which is on display through Sept. 30 at the Domareki Gallery in Columbia High School.

The exhibit, curated by CHS art teacher Ellen Weisbord, features the work of Sybil Archibald and Russell Christian, both of South Orange, and Terry Boddie, a resident of Orange.

The show is part of a communitywide project initiated by the Lennie Pierro Memorial Foundation, directed by Judy Wukitsch, in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition, “A Sense of Place, Kiki and Seton Smith,” a tribute to two artists that will show at the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University from Oct. 30 through Dec. 9.

In addition, SOMSD teachers are invited to involve their students in an exploration of a sense of place through art and writing. Coinciding with the exhibition at Seton Hall, the Domareki Gallery at Columbia High School will feature the work produced by South Orange-Maplewood School District students. Their work will also be included in an online exhibition.

Also tied to this communitywide project, the Pierro Gallery will take a political look at the idea of place, in “Politico: (Do You) Know Your Place?” running Nov. 3 through Dec. 3, in conjunction with Arts Unbound, the South Orange Performing Arts Center and Valley Arts. “Know Your Place” is an idiom often used to keep people from challenging the status quo. With this in mind, curators Raleigh Ceasar and Sandy Martiny will investigate the ways in which artists have responded to the election issues regarding race and feminism.

Weisbord, who is curating “Un-Common-Place,” said it was the upcoming event at the Pierro Gallery that first sparked the idea of an exhibit that played with the idea of space and what it can mean in different contexts.

“I knew I wanted to do a show with some artists to inspire my AP/Art 4 students. I was in a show last spring at the Pierro Gallery, and Sybil Archibald was also in the show, and I saw this wall of her monoprints and I wasn’t familiar, and I knew I wanted to get her to the high school,” Weisbord said in a recent interview with the News-Record. “I thought the kids would be interested in her work. I also wondered who else would be good with her and started talking with Judy Wukitsch in the summer about the theme of sense of place after learning that the Pierro Gallery was going to do a show called ‘(Do You) Know Your Place?’ and I wanted to play on that theme and thought of ‘Un-Common-Place.’”

In her quest to recruit artists to accompany Archibald’s work, Weisbord’s search led her to Christian, whose work she was sure would appeal to her students.

With dark humor and playfulness, Christian populates his spaces with contorting characters, experiencing the confines of a particular place, time or situation. He comes from a perspective of cartoons and performance, and the audience is invited to witness his characters’ efforts to fit in — or get out — of imposed grids.

Christian — whose son graduated from CHS and whose daughter recently began high school there — was already familiar with Weisbord when she approached him to participate in the show.

“I have known her quite a long time; when I first moved here she was a friend of a friend, and I was surprised that she asked me but I was very pleased to be able to participate,” Christian said. “For me hanging the show is like putting another painting together; the shapes and spaces between pieces really matter to me. I had fun putting the show together.”

Though Christian is known for his cartoons, he is a firm believer in not being categorized as an artist, an approach he hopes the students will keep in mind in their own work.

“I like humor in art but I also feel like there is room for anger and all your other emotions and also there is room for things that are more oblique and less easily understood. I don’t like to be cornered into what people expect of me. There are drawings, objects, paintings, I do it all, and I want it all to be there. I do have a lot of cartoony work but also more serious pieces,” he said. “Because the pieces are being hung in a high school, I wanted the high school students to see how you can do more than one thing; I wanted it to look a little free. You can keep changing your approach throughout your lifetime, and keep challenging yourself and trying different things.”

Boddie’s approach to the subject matter was deeply personal, as his works explore his journey from his native Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts to North America.

“Those images on display are from a large body of work that spans about the last 10 years or so called ‘The Residual of Memory,’ and they essentially investigate both historic and personal memory.” he said in a recent interview with the News-Record.

For Boddie, the hope is that the work will not only resonate with the audience, but also encourage personal reflection.

“I was invited to do the show and I thought it was important to have my work seen by this particular audience of high school students. I know how important it is for high school students to be exposed to images by the generation ahead of them, so they can see themselves as part of a continuum. Hopefully the images inspire them to consider their own work, and my hope is to inspire them to look at what they do more closely,” Boddie said. “Like myself, some of them are from immigrant backgrounds as well and their family history extends beyond where they are now in South Orange, and hopefully they see some of themselves in what I have done by examining my own journey.”

The collaboration between local artists, CHS, the Pierro Gallery and Seton Hall University is one Weisbord is excited to be able to share with her students and her community.

“The Seton Hall exhibit in November is sponsored by the Lennie Pierro Memorial Foundation, and when Judy Wukitsch came to us with her plans for the fall, that’s how I got involved with connecting my gallery with doing a professional development with the teachers in the district. The work that they produce will come back to the high school and will run at the same time as the ones at the Pierro Gallery and the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall and will also be digitized by the Seton Hall students,” Weisbord said.

“As a longtime South Orange resident, it feels really good as a member of the community and as a member of the faculty to be able to bridge all these different things.”

A reception for the artists will be held Friday, Sept. 23, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Domareki Gallery in Columbia High School. The event is open to the public and all are welcome.