In the midst of a nationwide racial and gender reckoning, how does contemporary art challenge us to confront our fractured reality, and what role does the artist play in this challenge?


North Carolina artists Susan Brenner, MyLoan Dinh and Charles Farrar will take those question head on in The Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art’s February exhibition, The Art of Struggle. This socially charged show addresses the consequences of our complex, unresolved history around race and gender and invites conversation and inquiry. Through the power of story – both personal and collective – these artists explore the gray areas that make humans complicated and interesting, while embracing the job of the artist to imagine possibilities and to shift thinking. In an artist luncheon on Friday, February 2 and a panel discussion on Tuesday, February 13, these participants will examine the impact artists can have on how we view and address the tumultuous events and social realities of the day.


Susan Brenner is a nationally recognized artist who for decades explored issues surrounding perceptions of gender and femininity and issues related to the body. Primarily a painter, Brenner also uses photography, digital imaging, drawing and installation to create her work. In This is History…that is not over, Brenner offers a sardonic view of hysteria as a defining metaphor for femininity. The work draws parallels between the world of contemporary advertising and the 19th century institutions that produced and reproduced hysteria as a spectacle. Brenner is also exhibiting two other series of works – Susannah and the Elders and The Judith Stories: Without Voice – that examine the repression of trauma and the fragmentary nature of identity. The series is based on the prominent 17th century Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s paintings. Gentileschi, a rape survivor, is celebrated as an early champion of feminist themes.


MyLoan Dinh challenges institutionalized ideas and uses her mixed media work, paintings and installations to share her perspective on the social environment. Dinh is a former Vietnamese refugee who settled in North Carolina after fleeing Saigon with her family in 1975. In WOKE-Out, Dinh uses the contemporary byword ‘woke’ for self and social awareness, to question the existing dominant paradigm and actively participate in the process for positive change. Dinh’s series of boxing gloves in WOKE-Out represents the struggle for racial and gender equality. She takes the gloves out of their normal context and integrates unexpected mediums – cross stitch, hip hop lyrics and eggshell mosaic – to disrupt conventional artistic and social norms. Dinsh addresses contemporary challenges of migration, displacement, identity and home in her new series 4 Minutes, paintings that seek to capture facets of our humanity. Inspired by the Border Network for Human Rights project, Hugs Not Walls, families had only four minutes to reunite with their loved ones. These works explore the desire to love and be loved, the value of being in the moment and the fleeting minutes of an emotional embrace.


Charles Farrar is an internationally celebrated wood artist whose artworks honor the valuable skills and creative abilities that enslaved Africans brought with them to the North and South American continents. Using hand-selected woods with irregular grain patterns, knots and burls, and incorporating meaningful artifacts and heirlooms into his artwork, Farrar creates fine art vessels that hold and emotionally convey ideas and concepts. In Homage to Sharecroppers, Farrar uses reclaimed rings from the hub of a wagon wheel dug out of farm property owned by his parents that had been worked by family members who were sharecroppers in earlier generations. Using circles of spalted birch wood in this contemporary multi-piece work, Farrar taps into the universal symbols of totality, wholeness and timeliness to open the viewer’s eyes to the expansiveness of the cycles in time, life and nature itself. His works evoke a sense of wonder as they mirror the aesthetic standard of today while also providing a window into the historical context of the time. Farrar will also be exhibiting a number of vessels and wood-turned sculpture artworks.


The goal of this exhibition is not simply to call attention to contemporary social struggles, but to also begin a dialogue. Gallery owner Sonya Pfeiffer notes that “a significant motivator for creating an exhibition like The Art of Struggle is the conversation engendered by the works and the communities that form in the process of developing and participating in them. Artists have an opportunity to be part of the discourse. They are shedding light on their own personal experiences with injustice or those endured by others, and through this shared dialogue, work together to transcend polarities and rediscover our common humanity.” The Art of Struggle exhibition runs February 1 – February 28, 2018.