The Halloween season is a time when, for at least a night or two, you can become something – or someone – else. An exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art called Dressed Up explores the "theater of the self," and the role of nature, culture, reality and perception.
Creating a new self-image
"Let’s be really ornery in the museum," encourages librarian Meghann Henry. "And on the count of three, you're going to count shout ‘Good morning!’ One, two three, 'Good morning!' Pretty good, alright."
Just after 11 a.m. at the Kemper Museum, "Miss Meghann," is starting this month's session of Tots on Tuesdays, a game and story time for three to five-year-olds. She holds up a book, Mister Tiger Goes Wild, and starts to read to about 20 kids and moms, some standing, some sitting cross-legged on a rug on the floor of the gallery.
"What do you see?," asks Henry. "I see the tiger with the bow tie," responds one child. And she confirms, pointing to the picture: "The tiger with the bow tie."
The book explores themes of identity – as a tiger walks on two legs, dressed in black tie and a top hat.
Identities unfold in depictions of others
Just behind the group, hanging on a light purple wall, there are two large-scale photographs. In one, a woman in a 1950's style yellow dress sits on a grassy hill surrounded by ducks and other small creatures.
"So when you look at these photographs, you might think they’re being photographed among a grove of aspens, or a field of flowers," says museum director Barbara O'Brien. But, instead, she says, artist Needa Madahar has created a "constructed reality."
"They are images created from paper, photographed in a studio, they made the clothing, they set the lighting, they did the makeup together," says O'Brien. "And what’s fascinating to me is that she took her group of friends and asked them to create theatrical tableaus in which they presented their most empowered sense of their self."
Madahar, a British-born artist of South Asian descent, is one of the four artists in the exhibition at the Kemper called Dressed Up, co-curated by O'Brien and museum curator Erin Dziedzic.
Other artists include New York-based Hope Gangloff, and portraits of her own artist community drawing on earlier artists and techniques, such as Egon Schiele and Impressionism; Trenton Doyle Hancock, of Houston, and his mask-like forms; and Nigerian-born Marcia Kure, and her layered collages and portraits.
Mashing cultural hybrids
"The range of artists in this exhibition speaks to that idea of the global artist," says Dziedzic. The exhibition, she says, takes a cue from Kure's series of watercolor and photo collages, also called Dressed Up, with characters in runway mash-ups.
"She’s looking at these hybrid constructions of the human form and figure with mashed up elements of hip hop culture and Victorian dress," says Dziedzic. "And so I think that sparked the idea of looking into other artists who were also kind of mashing up those cultural hybrids."
Dziedzic says programming at the museum, for children and adults, will extend the themes of the exhibition. There’s a spoken word performance, Victorian hair braiding, and antique pop. And, she says, all of the artists will visit Kansas City.
The exhibition, Dressed Up, runs through April 27, 2014, at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Mo.