Guns in American life at iMOCA's Unloaded 

Unloaded is iMOCA's last Fountain Square exhibit

click to enlarge Unloaded at iMOCA will be the last show they host at the Murphy location
  • Unloaded at iMOCA will be the last show they host at the Murphy location

If you follow the news, you might recall various "Come and Take it" rallies supporting open carry laws. In one particular rally — in San Antonio, Texas — the participants carried their weapons openly despite a local ordinance banning the practice.

A photograph of this rally by New York City-based Nina Berman is part of Unloaded, an exhibition featuring 19 artists (with a wide variety of media) exploring issue of guns and gun ownership in America. Unloaded will open at both iMOCA at the Murphy and iMOCA CityWay on Friday, Oct. 7.

In Berman's photo, you see a young Caucasian couple. The woman is dressed like Wonder Woman and the man is dressed like Captain America (that is, if Captain American wore flag-patterned briefs outside his tights). Both are carrying assault rifles.

A work by Vanessa German entitled "Pistol Unwhipped" explores the psychological effects of packing heat. In this mixed media sculpture, you see a Black doll with a toy gun balanced on its head.

"I think about the way people change when they get guns in their hands, the way that they change when they just have a gun in their lives," says the Pittsburgh, PA-based German, who is African-American. "I know people who drive around with guns. It makes them feel different. They talk about feeling an extra sense of power, an extra sense of confidence in themselves and in their lives."

click to enlarge Vanessa German's "Pistol Unwhipped" at Unloaded
  • Vanessa German's "Pistol Unwhipped" at Unloaded

The title of the piece is a play on the term "pistol whipped," but only in part. It also alludes to romance.

Joshua Bienko, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, used the film The Killers as his inspiration for "Zwuernica." This mixed media work features imagery borrowed from Picasso's monumental anti-war painting "Guernica." These images are painted over a film still picturing Kutcher packing heat.

According to Bienko "Zwuernica" addresses the question, "Exactly what is the responsibility of the artist to address these things and what is our power to do so anyway?"

This question was certainly on the mind of Pittsburgh-based curator Susanne Slavick when she assembled this exhibition.

"My work for a long time as an individual artist — and not as a curator — has been concerned with violence and for a long time it was about war," says Slavick. "And for a long time I did a lot of work about the aftermath of war. And I curated a show. And I edited a book: It was called Out of Rubble. It was about the aftermath of war and the violence. And while that project was concluding, I just felt like I wanted to turn closer to home where I really see the plague of guns in our society as another kind of war on the domestic front that causes enormous suffering."

Artist Vanessa German will be highlighting battles on the domestic front as well. Her Pittsburgh community of Homewood has seen its share of suffering caused by gun violence. German is trying to make the area better by turning a house she owns into an art center. This house won't be accessible at Unloaded, of course, but knowing about it might give exhibition patrons a window on her practice as both a visual and performing artist. It's called ARThouse.

"It is a house that I took a wall out of so that I had a little bit larger gallery area and it's filled with all kinds of art supplies, from glass mosaic supplies, clay, watercolor, fabric, beads," says German, who clearly sees her role and responsibility as an artist as a socially engaged one. "Anybody can come in and make art. So it's like their own space; they can work on whatever they want to work on."

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