What Lies Beneath 2016

Exhibition at the Midland Cultural Centre, Midland, ON with Jenny Iserman
Curated by Jill Price, Curator

Both funded by the Ontario Arts Council, Tiny artist Tina Poplawski and Walkerton artist Jenny Iserman put forth artistic investigations that are simultaneously educational, inspirational and magical due to a tempering of pictorial vocabulary and an astute awareness of art’s ability to affect change.

Poplawski’s richly layered mixed media assemblages reference her personal family history, which saw the execution of her Polish grandfather and imprisonment of relatives in the Gulag camps by the Soviet NKVD during World War II. Whether seen on the wall or on the floor, these material rich compositions work as markers for the people and the cultural histories that were lost, displaced or buried during this time. Encrusting large jute crocheted doilies with moss, wood, ash, earth and other botanical matter, Poplawski’s physical and emotional investment becomes very evident. Her combination of materials, integration of symbolic folk patterns from countries affected, as well as her repetitive craft processes.

“Through my art practice, I am attempting to reclaim something of this lost past, this misunderstood history – to bear witness to these fading memories and to create, out of the wreckage, a visual and ethical imagination. Negotiating the cultural residue of war, for many years my art practice has led me to a fascination with botanical ‘debris,’ underfoot, trodden upon and ignored. Regardless, I see the natural world as a place of comfort as it continues its cycles of cleansing and renewal.”
Tina Poplawski

Jenny Iserman’s fibre based works originating from her project Comfort / Discomfort address the horrific realities of domestic violence and how families are subjected to the abuse of civil rights and human suffering in their own homes. Embracing the history of fabric as a material used to tell and exchange information, Iserman delicately and yet poignantly visualizes through text and imagery different acts of violence that have been carried out against women in domestic settings.
Stories depicted and translated are those Iserman has witnessed or acquired while working as a social worker and as a volunteer at a women’s shelter. Her carefully stitched quilts and corresponding handmade books encourage contemplation and reflection upon these daily occurrences that are unfortunately ongoing realities. Iserman shares, “I believe artists have a responsibility to use their work to bear witness and work for change.”

Although dealing with different types of oppression, brutality and the settings in which they occur, commonalities clearly emerge within Poplawski’s and Iserman’s work. Both artists handle unspeakable atrocities from a place of tolerance and a voice of grace. The anger that so often emerges when recalling such inhumane atrocities is nowhere to be found, but rather subverted with a highly considered use of symbolism, iconography and materiality that interweaves empathetic sadness with a desire for hope and understanding. What each artist has exemplified is how to move forward with visual messaging about violent pasts, acknowledging that society learns through the act of mimicry.

We invite audiences to make connections about how this exhibit echoes violence witnessed in their own lifetime, that which continues to reverberate from the past and ponder how might we prevent more in the future.

Jill Price / Exhibition Didactic