Rebecca McGrew on HYBRID HISTORIESe

Barbara Benish's work addresses the dual relationships and transformations between nature and culture, religion and reason and imagination.Since 1989 Benish has divide her time between Los Angeles and Prague, and her art reflects this mixing of cultures. One of Benish's primary interests is the fiels of anthropology and, particularly, the relationships between contemporary Western society and other cultures. She has studied the rituals, mythologies, and hisories of Native America and traditional Polynesia, as well as our own Catholic, Christian, and Jewish sub-cultures.Her woek explores art history, particularly Northern European Gothic art-as well as the dichotomies between art and craft, and the decorative and the domestic.

 

"Barbara Benish: Hybrid Histories" focuses on Benish's work over the last decade. Instead of a traditional overview, the exhibition traces the artist's working methods and processes and shows the artist's influences-including original source material. In addition to selected series of her work, this exhibition will include both historical objects that have influenced Benish and her own preparatory studies and drawings.

 

Interested in the physical properties of found materials, Benish has worked with a variety of media-sculpture, installation, painting, drawing, poetry, and music. Inspired by both everyday, found objects and natural, organic materials, she brings together disparate elements to create new forms. Her work relies heavily on appropriation as an artistic strategy-she invests the original object or image with a new symbolic presence, recontextualizing its meaning. She reconsructs traditionel interpretations of history through shadowy images of personal and collective memory and direct references to nature and natural elements such as plants.

 

The exhibition focuses on three of the most pervasive themes in Benish's work- Nature and Culture, the Apocalypse, and Ethnology. The first section, titled "Emancipation into Solitude : The Nature/Culture Opposition," provides an overview of the themes found within the exhibition and a framework for her work. In a variety of forms, the woek in this section juxtaposes the emotional, body-centered attributes commonly associated with the feminine, with the rationality and control prized by our culture. The work includes both organic images-reflecting nature, the body, and physicality-and images of the world of ideas-reflecting the mind, language, and culture. Supplementary work in this section includes cultural artifacts from the Czech Republic-china, embroidery, and painted eggs.

 

The second section,"Songs from Hell/ Lines of Pleasure: Visions of the Apocalypse," looks at the Book of Revelations in view of its original etymological/historical roots; its mystery, its politicizing of religious persecution, and its use as a path of enlightenment.Works by Francisco Goya and Albrech Dürer are presented along with Benish's art and sketches.

 

The third section,"Encuentro: Mapping Ethnographic Difference," explores the cross-fertilization between European and non-European cultures. It examines ideas of" high" and "low" art, function and form, and the problems associated with Eurocentric interpretations of other cultures. Objects from Pomona College's Native Americen collection and a Polynesian tapa cloth from UCLA's Fowler Museum of Art are included.

 

Rebecca McGrew

Curator, Pomona College Museum of Art

Claremont, California