Controversial exhibition finds a new home
With the worldwide Bring Back Our Girls campaign ignited after militants kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, two Vernon-based artists are showing that female sexual abuse, neglect, and murder can also happen close to home.
Ryan Robson and Jessika LaFramboise are revealing the dark underbelly of sexual exploitation, as well as the many missing and murdered women in B.C., through their joint exhibition, Dear Diary, which is about to open at Gallery Vertigo.
Some may be familiar with Robson’s work. The artist, who goes by the name Ryan Ryan, was asked to remove her controversial exhibition, Lady Like, prematurely after it was displayed in an open hallway exhibition space, managed by Gallery Vertigo, at the Vernon campus of Okanagan College in January.
A number of the school’s staff and students were said to be distressed with the subject matter of the art, which showed skeletal remains to faceless, semi-clothed females in various poses, including bondage.
The work, Robson says, was in part a response to her being sexually abused as a child and started as her grad show at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design in Halifax.
“It was something I was challenged to do by my teachers,” she said. “They encouraged me to take risks and draw what I wanted rather than what others expected of me. I was driven by the subject matter. I had things inside me I needed to say.”
Over the years, Robson has added to the pieces, bringing new life to the series.
LaFramboise’s exhibition, entitled She was standing there. And then she was gone, was created to inform the community about the missing and murdered women cases in B.C. It was slated to go up at the college after Robson’s exhibition. However, after the controversy, the North Okanagan Artists Alternative, which operates Gallery Vertigo, offered LaFramboise and Robson an opportunity to show their work together at the gallery’s space in downtown Vernon.
“I am incredibly grateful that Gallery Vertigo is giving us this opportunity, despite the subject matter not being especially pretty,” said LaFramboise, adding she and Robson have not created their work to offend.
Instead, the women say they are attempting to create conversation within the community.
“My intentions are to learn about life and to release things that no longer serve me and to do so as honestly as possible,” said Robson. “It allows me to heal and reflect on things in society that I see as unjust. I would choose a heated conversation over silence any day.”
LaFramboise says the subjects of her paintings are real people with families who miss them.
“The show does not make a direct statement about the politics involved, the government, the media, or the RCMP. It is entirely about personalizing these women that have been deemed high risk,” she said. “High risk often means that a woman is Aboriginal, living under the poverty line, and/or partakes in high risk behaviour like hitchhiking, drug use, casual sex, or prostitution.
“Everyone, male or female, should be vigilant in their safety and, maybe even more importantly, the safety of others.”
The joint exhibition will also include diary-like entries to compliment the work and to give the public a deeper view into what inspired the women’s art.
Both Robson and LaFramboise say they hope the entries will create a dialogue between viewer and artist.
“Keeping the subject matter quiet is what makes these subjects taboo. And when you cannot speak about these subjects, then we cannot begin to help victims heal. As a community, we need to heal,” said LaFramboise.
The opening reception for Dear Diary takes place at Gallery Vertigo Saturday, June 7, starting at 7 p.m. The show will be on the walls at the gallery for the entire month of June.
Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Gallery Vertigo is located at 1 – 3001 31st St., in downtown Vernon. Check www.galleryvertigo.net for more information.