The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts March 10, 2006

Familial Atmosphere Created by Impeccably Imperfect Portraits
“Family Portraits” Exhibit Intimate Even for Outsiders
Good Family Fun: Students fit right into the comfortable context created by the art exhibit in Fisher Hall.

“We are celebrating who we are...where we come from...what we like to do...and the connection between those things,” was just one of Leila Macbeth’s many explanations behind “Family Portrait,” an exhibit put together by her and fellow senior Daviel Shy and junior Marisol LeBron.

Perhaps the most striking evidence of this celebration was the remnants of the show’s opening: a slew of empty cigarette and alcohol containers crowding a large table. Along the walls surrounding the table were various pictures of the artists and their friends.

In most of the pictures, people dressed in drag or in costumes, and were often depicted simply having fun together. The empty containers (perhaps more fitting in a college dorm room than in an art exhibit) and the pictures did not suggest an attempt to show off individual artistic skills.

Instead, the goal was conceptual: to capture multiple voices through the artists’ own and —as it was very apparent — to have fun in the process. Many of the pictures were not technically perfect; many of them did not have good lighting. However, Macbeth explained that they decided to include even the pieces of “poor quality” simply because they “wanted to include everyone involved,” and the pictures were too valuable to leave out.

There were a number of self-exploratory pieces, but the focus was very rarely simply on the individual artist. Some of the photographs I found most interesting were LeBron’s reaction to the discriminatory employment policies of Abercrombie and Fitch. She printed excerpts of employment rules (some as arbitrary as having girls only wear a simple, silver chain as a necklace to more obviously racial discriminatory passages) directly onto the photographs of her and a friend dressed in the preppy apparel.

In her own blurb about the pictures, LeBron states that she liked the “preppy” Abercrombie look, but never took the time to examine why it made her feel good. It was an honest attempt to look at her insecurities, as well as the way these influence her as a consumer.

Another interesting part of the exhibit was a music video, with original music by senior Evan Keeler-Wolf. In the video, girls in drag performed a choreographed dance.

“Fantasy and desire are an important part of identity,” Macbeth said.

Not only was the music video a testament to the fun, social atmosphere of the exhibit, it was also connected to the idea that a person’s identity is not a clearly defined entity, but rather a constant struggle between living according to societal expectations and fulfilling individual desires.

On the side wall of the room, there was a large map of the world with various drawings from people who had come to the exhibit. The map was simply a bare outline of the continents, but at the time I saw it, it was filled with colorful sketches and writing.

The map brought together the great variety in the mediums and topics explored in the exhibit; prominently located by the entrance of the exhibit, the map clearly displayed the overarching theme of community.

“We wanted to bring as many voices from the community as possible. We are a reflection of the community, we are a result of community...we are trying to have these different voices be heard,” Macbeth said when I first asked her to explain the intention of the exhibit.

Looking around at the photographs and empty beer bottles, I knew this was obviously a family that took their play — and their work —very seriously.


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