St. Petersburg art exhibit challenges typical gender roles and stereotypes

Roles of Engagement is on exhibit at the Morean Arts Center.

click to enlarge Smith’s drawings and paintings are “observations and critiques of a perceived black female culture in 'The Evolution of Self.'” - PRINCESS SMITH
Princess Smith
Smith’s drawings and paintings are “observations and critiques of a perceived black female culture in 'The Evolution of Self.'”

Think traditional kitchen implements don’t qualify as art? Think again, and then check out Roles of Engagement at the Morean Art Center in St. Petersburg. Gainesville artist Cheyenne Rudolph wants to change your mind with her installation, “Kitschinventions.” 

The show features local, regional and nationally known artists, brought together for this provocative exhibit that merges two separate shows — a women’s show and a fiber show. Curators Amanda Cooper and Kelsey Nagy discovered a common theme that explores gender roles and stereotypes through diverse media, bringing together each artist’s unique vision and twist on social expectations.

Artists include Orly Cogan, Paul Leroy Gehres, Marsha Kemp, Desiree Moore, Cheyenne Rudolph, Sarah Tancred and — in a coordinated solo exhibit — the works of Princess Smith, a local artist with an MFA from USF, who presents colorful paintings and drawings exploring the sexuality and personal evolution of women of color. 

Amanda Cooper, curator of exhibitions, discovered Smith’s work a few years ago at Art Festival Beth-El and thought she’d be a good fit for Roles of Engagement.

“I wanted to display an artist who was working toward the theme of identity and perception and that’s exactly what Princess Smith does — depicting how our culture and society view women of color vs. how she sees them and how they view themselves,” Cooper says.

Smith’s drawings and paintings are “observations and critiques of a perceived black female culture in 'The Evolution of Self.'” Her large paintings depict how women perceive themselves contrasted with the way others view them. In one series of three drawings, she purposefully refers to women as Moors; one wears a crown, and each has facial decorations. In another, a man wears a fez, titled “Respect da Fez.” Smith demonstrates her great interest in exploring the native African culture in art.

The other portion of the exhibit features a mix of fabric and multi-media installations by six artists — five women and one man.

“We were going for a broad perspective of local, regional and national artists to cover the subject of gender roles and stereotypes,” Kelsey Nagy, curator of this part of the exhibition, says. “It was not intentional [to have only one male artist],” Nagy said, referring to the work of Paul LeRoy Gehres, aka LeRoy “King of Art,” who now makes St. Pete his home.

And the King of Art does indeed create some imposing art! His installation “Aquarius” covers a gallery wall, floor to ceiling, with fabric swatches, and bits of cloth with screened pictures of pop-culture icons and printed messages. There’s a pillow with Stormy Daniels’ name, Martin Luther King’s face on a foot-square cloth, another with Anita Hill — just all sorts of curious images the artist has created reflecting his interest in gender equality and the #metoo movement.  

click to enlarge Tampa photographer Marsha Kemp, displays a sequence of photos showing the transformation of Iberian Rooster drag queen Adriana Sparkle from a bearded man into a glamorous woman. - MARSHA KEMP
Marsha Kemp
Tampa photographer Marsha Kemp, displays a sequence of photos showing the transformation of Iberian Rooster drag queen Adriana Sparkle from a bearded man into a glamorous woman.

There are separate messages on paper nestled in the seemingly random hodge-podge, including a description of an antique quilt show, and a child’s pink pinafore emblazoned with the words “The Future” in a repeating pattern. It could take hours to discover all the messages and pictures in this piece.

“He’s come in a couple of times and added to the piece,” said says Nagy, indicating the timeliness of his work and commitment to his message. 

Another local artist, Tampa photographer Marsha Kemp, displays a sequence of photos showing the transformation of Iberian Rooster drag queen Adriana Sparkle from a bearded man into a glamorous woman (still bearded) with a shapely figure, ready for the “First Act.”  

Fabric artist Orly Cogan from Hudson Valley, NY uses vintage fabrics, embellishing the delicate embroidery on these pieces with more contemporary images challenging gender roles. Her “Children of Eden” is a quilt-sized piece on vintage linen, a mix of embroidery and paint juxtaposing the antique fabrics with modern ideas for an interesting take on modern morality. 

Gainesville artist Cheyenne Rudolph’s installation “Kitschinventions” is mixed-media, with ordinary utensils displayed as pieces of art. A video of the artist in a pink and blue kitchen demonstrating traditional cooking techniques is a wry take on women’s roles in the kitchen. 

The video installation of St. Petersburg’s Desiree Moore features several television sets with women from different eras speaking and laughing, showing changing media perception of women over the decades. Sarah Tancred, a Pittsburgh artist, creates spoons and other kitchen utensils in glazed, white porcelain, calling attention to the implements as art. One unique piece is an ordinary kitchen timer rendered in porcelain so perfectly it looks like it would really tick.

“I’m excited to be working with and displaying the works of all six artists," says Nagy of the varied show. It’s been wonderful to see how these very different works interact to create a larger cohesive dialogue.” 

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