Through February 5, 2022
By D. DOMINICK LOMBARDI, January 2022
The CAMP Gallery, which focuses on contemporary emerging and mid-career artists in Miami, recently opened a second exhibition space in Westport, Connecticut. Their current exhibition, Margaret Roleke: March On Society, features numerous works on paper, as well as assembled freestanding and wall mounted sculptures that address the increasing sociopolitical divide in our country. Curated by Brianna Luz Fernandez and Amy Clarke, the exhibition was purposely scheduled near the first anniversary of the assault on the Capital on January 6th, a globally stunning event that has come to symbolize the core of a growing and troubling divide that has since been spun way out of control to represent everything from contrasting views regarding women’s reproductive rights to one’s basic lawful privilege to be heard in the ballot box.
Roleke’s art has long been known for her consistent contributions in championing women’s rights, fighting abuse against women, political perversion, gun or assault weapon violence, the degradation of our democracy, and the general destruction of our fragile planet as a result of excessive greed. As the old saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” which now has unfortunately become more like “the more things change, the more people want to turn the clock back.”
In Roleke’s work, signs and symbols continually pinpoint both the cause and the effect, resulting in the proliferation of cronyism justice, increased personal rights abuses for the rest of us, and the continued cavernous divide been the haves and have-nots. These are hard facts, a reality that cannot be ignored, and Roleke takes a stand with great focus and fearlessness using iconic symbols and powerful words. I am reminded of the work of Mark Lombardi (no relation to this reviewer) who took a very different tact, but was equally outraged and concerned with the covert, methodical plotting of powerful aspiring world dominators to circumvent the system and gain control.
One common element in Roleke’s large cyanotypes is the American flag, which has unfortunately become a symbol of contention as opposed to freedom and justice. The flag should not represent half of the country, as some seem to insist it does, but a common belief that we are all equal under the sun. You see this in works like Warning (2021), Charge (2021), Hope (2020) and Brown Gun (2021), that malleability of representation, ideals and ethics depending on the service of the few and not the entire community at large. In Roleke’s smaller works on paper, we see a continuation of her concern with how some define personal liberty, and how that has become fanatical, imposing and even violent.
With her assembled sculptures, Roleke looks more closely at the origins of violence and control, and an ages old system that is becoming more and more dangerous. “Boys are given toy guns and girls dolls” as Roleke often points out, and as a result of that early indoctrination, the stability of that cycle of aggressive behaviors of men against women can be seen in much of her work, especially in White Girls (2015), Holy Torture (2016) and Mad Play (2015).
Then there is the issue of poor dietary choices (largely highly processed fast foods) in the so-called food desserts common to poor neighborhoods across the United States. In McDonaldland (2014), which is a wall mounted tondo comprised of an endless array of Happy Meal toys uniformly spray-painted a faint, yellow/green beige, gives this work its post apocalyptic feel, as it looks more like a concrete graveyard than a safe place to play. On the other hand, Religious Toys (2016), which, in addition to the toy elements, features cut-away, circular lenticular religious images back-lit by a light box, is one of the more mesmerizing works in the exhibition. Due to the intimate scale and relative airiness of Religious Toys, viewers are immediately pulled into a world where one may become simultaneously stimulated and sedated, temporarily satisfied with an older order of things.
Margaret Roleke: March On Society on view at the CAMP Gallery in Westport, CT, runs through February 5th. WM
D. Dominick Lombardi is an artist, art writer and curator based in New York. A 45-Year retrospective of his art, which was curated by T. Michael Martin, has traveled from the Clara M. Eagle Gallery at MSU in Western Kentucky in 2019, to the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art, Ent Center for the Arts, UCCS in Colorado Springs in 2021 – next moving to the Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland, New York in February, 2022. Some of his writing credits include the New Art Examiner (1997-98), ARTnews (1997), The New York Times (1998-2005), Juxtapoz (2002), Art in Asia (2007-2009), The Huffington Post (2012-2018), ARTES (2016-present), CultureCatch (2006-present), and dArt International magazine (2005-present). Lombardi’s most recent curatorial projects are “LandX” for Red fox Contemporary in Pound Ridge, NY (2021), “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” for the Hampden Gallery at UMASS Amherst, MA, (2020) and “I Am…” for the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, FL, (2020). Contributor portrait by Danh Nguyen.view all articles from this author