Easy Prey Exhibit


Last week I attended an exhibit called Easy Prey by artist Kimberly Chapman at the Emily Davis Gallery housed at the University of Akron. The show featured Chapman’s porcelain statues which tackle subjects such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and reproductive freedom.

Punch & Judy

As part of this exhibit, Chapman featured running footage from the famed British puppet show Punch & Judy. The puppet show is a series of short scenes in which Mr. Punch overtakes another character (sometimes his wife Judy) and declares his victory with the phrase, “That’s the way we do it.” It’s where we get the phrase “pleased as punch.” Chapman, for one, isn’t “pleased as punch” and neither am I. Chapman uses her art to critique the show and to broach the subject of partner abuse. Below you will find some clips from Punch & Judy:

Punch & Judy Footage
Punch & Judy Footage
Punch & Judy Footage

It was interesting and alarming watching the faces of the children as they viewed the beatings and hangings prevalent in the show. I kept trying to compare the reactions of the boys vs. girls as the scenes unfolded in front of them. The girls in the footage seem much more unsettled by what they are seeing and, at times, appear to look to the boys for a response. I wince seeing the one little boy stamping his feet in what appears to be a frenzy of excitement as Mr. Punch beats off an alligator. I don’t know if this would have bothered me at all seen in isolation – but viewed alongside other scenes, namely the one where Mr. Punch uses the same stick to beat up his wife, I was left feeling really disturbed. Now, I’m trying to think back on children’s shows/performances from my girlhood (Bugs Bunny comes immediately to mind in terms of violence turned comic) to re-evaluate the content from a different time/space reality. To explore how those things that were funny from my 7-year-old perspective carry a different weight from my 43-year-old perspective.

Scold’s Bridles

Busts in iron facemasks are also part of Chapman’s work. Chapman shared that these, “devices known in medieval Europe as Scold’s Bridles, reveal a silencing of the ‘weaker’ sex. Razor-sharp tongue depressors prevented the women from speaking, eating, or drinking.” You can see her reproduction of these depressors, what Chapman “considers…a medieval precursor to the MeToo movement” featured below:

The Monster

Chapman also includes a sculpture of “The Monster” in her exhibit. Eugenia Martinez Vallejo was used and exploited (and not paid a cent) as ‘entertainment’ for visitors of the royal court. Chapman’s note reproduced beside the images of The Monster Clothed and The Monster Undressed below reads: “She [Eugenia] is dressed as Bacchus, God of Wine and Vegetation. He showed mortals how to cultivate grapevines and make wine. She holds a vine and has hair decorated with them. She poses nude for the royal painter because she has been ordered to. The humiliation she must have felt.”

Eugenia Martinez Vallejo is SIX! She came from a poor background and suffered from Prader-Willi syndrome which is a childhood genetic disorder that leaves the person who has it constantly feeling hungry and thus leading to excessive obesity – here used as freak show spectacle. If one were to zoom in on her eyes in this painting, they would see Eugenia is not “pleased as punch” either.

Gaslighting Tags

Another part of the exhibit is Chapman’s Gaslighting Tags inspired by suicide watch tags used at the Suffolk County Asylum in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chapman put a modern twist on the “This Patient is not to be left alone” tags used at the asylum by switching out the verbiage to phrases modern day abusers employ to make their victims feel “crazy,”

Are You On the Menu?

I learned about the exhibit by researching where I could still see Morgan Bukovec’s work titled “Are You on the Menu.” I met Morgan at a visual journaling workshop that she was hosting and have been following her work on social media ever since. In this collection, she stitches phrases male customers have said to her during her time in the service industry onto guest check order pads.

Each remark, command, and question are quotes taken from my experiences as as server, with male customers. This series is a personal release, and a way to gain ownership over the words said to me by men. It is the acknowledgement of language that perpetuates sexism, microaggressions, and sexual harassment spoken and heard not only in the workplace but in all spaces…Just as the stitches in these works are permanently punctured, the words said to me by men cannot be erased or undone. My needle, sewing thread, and guest checkbook act as tools of meditative resistance while referencing the historically rooted practice of cross-stitching and needlework as ‘women’s work.’

Morgan Bukovec

You can read more about Morgan’s project here and also purchase prints of various guest checks (I just ordered mine!)

Companion Pieces

Also featured as companion pieces to Chapman’s exhibit is a collection of metalwork by Shani Richards, oil and acrylic paintings on canvas by Katie Butler and found object assemblages by Gwen Waight (pictured below in order of mention).

In her metalwork collection, Shani Richards displays words often used as weapons against specific populations of people. On the accompanying placards she offers history as to the origin of the word, modern usages of the word, quotes that often repurpose the word (see the examples below from the placard for Feminist), and translation of the word in different languages.

Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream.

Rush Limbaugh

Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

Pat Robertson

Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie also has an amazing Ted Talk you can view below:

Parting Thoughts

As I left the gallery, I was able to record my response to what I saw. Here is what I wrote:

 Post-Script: I very much wanted to see Chapman’s other exhibit Eighty-Six Reasons for Asylum Admission at the Cummings Center across campus but found out too late that while the Art Gallery is open on Mondays, the Cummings Center is not ☹.

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