The Arc Gallery’s “Body Politics” Exhibit Challenges Stigmatization

A review of the Arc Gallery’s recent exhibit, “Body Politics.”

By Katie Fraser

With the advent of increasingly strict policies forced on women’s bodies throughout the United States and along with the continued stigmatization of the naked body, exhibits like the Body Politics exhibit at the Arc Gallery in Chicago are necessary. The artwork not only advocates for advancing women’s access to health care but also shows the role of the body in different mechanisms, as well as individual existence. In its essence, the exhibit’s collective approach defies regular stigmatization of the naked form, while still drawing from personal and vulnerable experiences which relate to the body, all in a frame.

Artist Christine Wuenschel’s visual art piece “L and M Eating” is the clear choice for visitors to see as they first step through the gallery’s doors. The artwork sets the tone for the rest of the exhibit, challenging fear and anxiety of the body through stenciled outlines of the human form. The outlines pose the female figure in a confrontational manner to emphasize tensions between awkwardness and comfort, pleasure, and discomfort. Not only does this open up internal dialogue about the body through reflections on the naked frame and its relation to other people, but it encourages further exploration of repressed experiences on an individual and collective level.

The artwork is not limited to painting and stenciling. In “Toys r US,” created by Suzanna Scott, two baby blankets are hung side by side. Everything about them is contradictory; one is pink, the other is black; one is decorated with hangers, the other with guns. The toys on the blankets represent the political interplay of rights and existence, with health care access and gun legislation being topics of question in the artwork.

Another piece, “I Come Rising” made by Bea, was one of my personal favorites in the exhibit. The artwork illustrates a beautifully vulnerable personal story, using the symbolism of flowers, fires, skies, and reflections to impart further meaning to each color and brush stroke. The hollyhock flower, a delicate pale pink against the flaming reds and oranges of the fires in the back, stands tall to represent survival in spite of medical practices which harm women. The contrast of the striking fire, the beautiful growing flower, and the colored reflecting water create both a self-reflective and narratively complex piece.

A multi-media form, “The Law As Written,” made by Alex Younger, prints laws onto a metallic and rusty platform. It includes South Carolina’s 16-3-658 statute, in which “a person cannot be guilty of criminal sexual conduct under Sections 16-3-651 through 16-3-659.1 if the victim is the legal spouse unless the couple is living apart and the offending spouse’s conduct constitutes criminal sexual conduct in the first degree or second degree as defined by Sections 16-3-652 and 16-3-653.” The multi-media component of this piece explores how words can be transformed when taken off of a neutral paper and inserted within a piece of art. This process strips the language of its impartiality, revealing the fragility within these laws through the hiding, erasing, and fracturing of text.

The Arc Gallery represents a community of artists asserting greater meaning and purpose from each individual piece through the conglomeration of similarly themed artwork. While the Arc Gallery has moved past the Body Politics exhibit to showcase other pieces of art, viewing exhibits like Body Politics always gives me hope that artists will continue to find platforms to showcase their work in a meaningful fashion. Personally, I can’t wait to view more exhibits from the Arc Gallery in the future, and I highly encourage others to do the same.