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Glitter and 'Rage': Pittsburgh artist Wavy Wednesday

Wavy Wednesday's mixed-media work "Rage" (detail) is among the works in "Where Does Your Christ Come From?" at 937 Liberty Gallery.
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Wavy Wednesday's mixed-media work "Rage" (detail) is among the works in "Where Does Your Christ Come From?" at 937 Liberty Gallery.

This is WESA Arts, a weekly newsletter by Bill O'Driscoll providing in-depth reporting about the Pittsburgh area art scene. Sign up here to get it every Wednesday afternoon.

Playwright Brent Askari’s “Andy Warhol in Iran,” which recently closed City Theatre’s season, asks whether artists are obligated to ponder politics.

While art promising to address political issues scares off people worried they’ll be lectured, “Andy Warhol in Iran” proceeds with wit, warmth and sincerity. Meanwhile, just across town, a gallery exhibit also proves political art can be polemical, funny and fun all at once.

“Where Did Your Christ Come From?,” at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 937 Gallery, includes 18 works by Pittsburgh-based Kamara Townes, who makes art as Wavy Wednesday.

The exhibit’s provocative title quotes Sojourner Truth’s famous “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech. Truth, speaking at a Women’s Rights Convention in 1851, asked where Christ came from and succinctly answered, “From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with him.”

Wednesday’s mostly wall-mounted mixed-media works are as pointed as they are playful and Pop-infused. In the 5-foot-wide title piece, glitter-soaked sunbeams descend from a pink-clouded sky as three young Black women with long magenta hair, two wearing Smurfs on their heads, stand insouciantly in the foreground. Two face the viewer, as if daring us to ascertain Christ’s provenance for ourselves.

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Townes’ drawing style tends toward the graphic arts, and in fact you can see her for-hire work at restaurants like Downtown’s The Speckled Egg and the South Hills Village Condado Tacos.

But few restaurants would hang a piece like “Doing The Work,” in which a statuesque Black woman in a pink superhero cape soars into the clouds holding a blonde white woman in her arms, like a child. Audre Lorde’s famous dictum “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” is stenciled in the background; a word balloon from the blonde woman’s mouth reads, “Thanks n*gger.” It’s scathing comment on the magical Negro mythos, white feminism and more.

Townes produced the works in the show for her master’s of fine art thesis at West Virginia University. But she’s been an emerging force for several years now, and she’s confident in her approach to mixed media, which must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.

In photos, the works look flat. But most of them start with wood panels and are carefully built up with layers of house paint and epoxy. In the Lucky Charms breakfast cereal spoof “Good Luck,” a glitter-infused strata of clear green epoxy coats the wood, save for a cutout where the face of a beaming leprechaun seems to ecstatically welcome the three versions of a Black woman’s head floating above his meal.

As in most every human face she’s drawn for this show, all eight eyes in “Good Luck” are blanked-out and pupil-less. This signature choice resonates differently in each work, sometimes humorously but not always. The exhibit’s most formally complex piece, “Rage,” consists of two vertical wooden panels mounted over a fish skeleton painted directly on the wall, in red. The panels, hung a foot apart, bifurcate the face of a blank-eyed young woman as a samurai sword pierces her skull, its blood-streaked blade jutting from her open mouth. Below, a fish-shaped opening in the panel reveals a lush miniature landscape adorned in gold glitter, with the illustrations of cavorting human skeletons.

In “White and Wonderful,” a vacant-eyed young white man and white woman stand viewing a message printed neatly on a blackboard that calls out Townes’ alma mater for harboring professors who are “white supremacists.” “I don’t feel safe here,” it reads. The white couple smiles vapidly in the shadow of three partially deflated party balloons spelling out “S.O.S.” At bottom left, the manicured hands of a young Black woman sign in ASL for “help.”

If “White and Wonderful” is the show’s most incendiary piece, its most affecting might be “BAPS (Kameron Greasing My Scalp).” Townes employs Disney’s cartoon Cinderella and Snow White, both newly shaded brown, as dreamlike companions mirroring two young Black women, one grooming the other. The appropriation of Cinderella’s delicately gesturing left hand as if it were providing tender care for a girlfriend is especially clever and touching.

“Where Did Your Christ Come From?” runs through June 8. (The final 10 days coincide with the upcoming Three Rivers Arts Festival.) On Mon., June 3, Townes gives an artist talk at the gallery in conversation with Clara Kent.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: