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Visual Art

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January in the galleries: Social ills and social action

By Barbara Schreiber
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    Ai Weiwei, Namelist (detail) (photo courtesy Van Every/Smith Galleries, Davidson College)
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    - Central Piedmont Community College
    Janet Lasher’s “Conscription at Ross Galleries, Central Piedmont Community College.
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    - JoAnn Sieburg-Baker
    “Out of the Shadows: Undocumented and Unafraid” at Levine Museum of the New South.

This month, check out exhibitions addressing an array of social, political and environmental issues.

‘Out of the Shadows’

This show explores the dual identities of undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as infants and toddlers: their outward appearance as ordinary U.S. teens and the invisibility their undocumented status confers.

Media artist Annabel Manning, assisted by independent curator Carla Hanzal, collaborated with members of Immigrant Youth Forum (Carrboro/Chapel Hll) and United 4 The Dream (Charlotte) on this exhibition. Central to the project are eerie blue mirror images that resemble footage from surveillance cameras typically found at a border crossing.

In the portrait series “Reflections/Invisible Blue,” each teen is depicted twice: on the right in full color, looking assertively at the viewer, and on the left, in a ghostly reflection that seems to stare longingly at the fully realized image.

In other series, the teens take charge of their own images, creating monoprints and other works that variously reveal fear, agitation, boldness and resolve.

Levine Museum of the New South; museumofthenewsouth.org; 704-333-1887; through June 29.

‘State of Emergency’

Although the 17 artists in “State of Emergency” depict disasters – among them war, storms, terrorism, economic despair and environmental depredation – the show’s underlying theme is how the experience of disaster lives on in memory.

The highlight of this exhibition is a small gallery containing two projects by Ai Weiwei that honor the nearly 6,000 children who perished in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake: “Namelist,” in which the name of each child is printed on an enormous panel, and “Remembrance,” in which each child’s name is read aloud. These chilling works helped expose the government corruption that allowed the shoddy construction that took so many young lives.

Van Every/Smith Galleries, Belk Visual Arts Center, Davidson College; davidsoncollegeartgalleries.org; 704-894-2519; through Feb 28.

Sculpture by Janet Lasher

Janet Lasher’s work is about the internalized restrictions, expectations and tensions that underlie domestic bliss, the pressures exerted on women and children. The centerpiece of the show is “Conscription,” a striking installation of 24 small torsos made from cast abaca pulp, reed, sinew and steel. Resembling dressmakers’ forms and arrayed in rows, they constitute an unwilling, anonymous army of the well-behaved.

Ross galleries, Central Piedmont Community College; http://blogs.cpcc.edu/cpccartgalleries; 704-330-6211; through Jan 30.

‘Bearing Witness’

The New York Photo League broke ground by promoting photography as an art form and tool for social change. An entire gallery of this show is dedicated to Sonia Handelman Meyer, who lives in Charlotte. It includes documentation of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped resettle European Jewish refugees, and Sydenham Hospital in Harlem, the country’s first integrated hospital. The remaining galleries include work by luminaries such as Lewis Hine, Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Berenice Abbott, and Dorothea Lange.

A sad irony is the federal government’s role in fostering the work of these photographers and then bringing them down. Many did their defining work during the Great Depression via programs such as the Works Progress Administration and Farm Security Administration. But the Photo League was forced to close in 1951, when in the midst of McCarthy-era hysteria, it was infiltrated by the FBI and falsely accused of harboring communists.

Mint Museum Randolph, 704-337-2000; mintmuseum.org; through June 29.

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