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Local artists parody pop culture, discuss politics at ‘Culture Shock’ exhibit

The “Culture Shock” exhibit, which opened last weekend in the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s Target Gallery, showcases 16 artists whose work covers pop, graffiti and street art styles. Artist Khanh Le’s piece, “As She Waited from This Point,” is featured in the center.

Several local artists’ work that discusses the intersection of social and political issues opened at an Alexandria, Va. exhibit this week.

The “Culture Shock” exhibit, which opened last weekend in the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s Target Gallery, showcases 16 artists whose work covers pop, graffiti and street art styles. The pieces focus on various current issues from how celebrities are portrayed in pop culture to how children are affected by war in Somalia.

Leslie Mounaime, the director of Target Gallery, said she is interested to see the response to the artwork’s political statements.

“I think that the whole point of this show is supporting artistic freedom. It’s a theme that I see connected with what happens in street graffiti,” she said. “I think this is something that people can connect with even if they don’t agree with the message that a piece is saying.”

Half of the artists featured in the new exhibit are from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. The pieces for the exhibition were chosen by Mojdeh Rezaeipour, an artist and founder of a local cafe, music venue and gallery called Epicure Cafe.

Creating an opportunity to showcase local artists for an exhibit that highlights D.C.’s history with street and pop art was important, Mounaime said.

“The roots are here,” she said. “D.C. was one of the influential places in the country for graffiti art, so having a show that kind of taps into its influence is really fun.”

Artist Khanh Le said it took him more than 400 hours to make “As She Waited from This Point” – a mixed media of acrylic jewels and paint on wood that depicts a faceless woman holding an umbrella. The piece is one of the largest in the exhibit.

As a former refugee, Le said that immigration issues in the current political climate inspired the piece.

“I feel that immigrants are often treated like these cheap acrylics jewels – they never value like diamond or crystals,” Le said. “But with enough of them and you arrange it in special ways, they shine brilliantly and you give them new purpose and meaning. Every time you look at it, the jewels shine in a special way at a different angle.”

The artwork is less of a “culture shock,” like the name of the exhibit suggests, and more moving with deep, bold colors and somber messages throughout the work. Some of the highlights include an altar with a sign that invites readers to flip through two Batman comic books, a digital drawing of four guns and a depiction of a police officer with his back to the viewer and hands on his hips staring toward a child crouched in a corner with a red can of spray paint and red lettering on the wall reading “Darn.”

Sarah Jamison, who graduated from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in 2010, has two small colorful drawings made with colored pencils, marker and gouache in the exhibit. “Huge,” one of her pieces, shows the Pokemon character Pikachu atop President Donald Trump’s head with him holding a pokeball. She said that she drew “Huge” before the election and was inspired to mash up the two images because of the presence of both figures on social media.

The other titled “v Sad” shows four celebrity women, Kim Kardashian, Lil Mama, Lindsay Lohan and Selena Gomez, crying. In “v Sad”, Jamison said she wanted to show that the internet preserves images of celebrities for entertainment and the obsession society has with the concept of celebrity.

“What does it say about our culture?” she said. “Kim Kardashian or Pokemon Go or Donald Trump, that’s kind of where we are now in terms of image recognition.”

Artist Michael Fischerkeller said that “Grace,” an acrylic spray paint on canvas depiction of child wrapped in a colorful cloth against a black backdrop, was inspired by the resilience of children who mature in war torn countries.

He said that it took about seven weeks to create “Grace” and the use of spray paint and subject matter fits into the exhibit’s focus on street art and social issues.

“Grace is a child from Somalia, a country whose population routinely deals with famine as a consequence of civil war,” Fischerkeller said. “I paint to shine a light on social issues.”

The exhibit is open now until Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Originally constructed as a torpedo station, Torpedo Factory Art Center became a space for artists’ studios in 1974 with now 82 artist studios and seven galleries open to the public.

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