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The Masks We Wear: Liliana Bloch Gallery's Faces Explores Societal Expecatations

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Liliana Bloch might run the smallest gallery in town. With just a few white walls cordoning off her art inside Brian Gibb's The Public Trust, she's proving with each exhibition she programs that in the art world, it's not size that matters.

Bloch has a sharp eye for art that's smart, but isn't necessarily pretty. She's not giving visitors accessible, couch-friendly paintings. Instead she demonstrates interests in artists who have something to say with their art, especially if they're saying it in subtle, small-scale sculptural pieces. Her artist roster is diverse both in race and gender, but also in style. The newest exhibition, Alicia Henry's Faces is exactly the kind of work you can expect from Bloch - difficult, provocative, and haunting.

For this series, Tennessee-based artist Henry concerns herself with ideas of beauty and the derivation of a woman's self-esteem. Certainly the topic is a complicated one, with threads of misogyny, unattainable societal ideals, racism, and psychology. That all these issues could be rolled up into a woman's physical appearance has frustrated women for centuries, and here Henry responds with a series of textured, brutal portraits.

Roughly accurate in size, and made from layers of cloth, many of the faces carry unclear expression or in at least one case, the details of the face fades to near invisibility. In another case, Henry adds a loose red leather mask straight from a scene of S&M, perhaps a depiction of the hyper-sexualized need to please a man. This attempt at pleasuring the other surfaces in many of the portraits, including one where the mask worn by a black face alludes to the exaggerated lips of minstrel shows. Wearing a mask to communicate false feelings is not something limited to women. Often, the masks are invisible to an onlooker.

Her faces are not huge, and the show itself may at first seem miniscule, barely numbering more than a dozen pieces, but Faces is one of those gallery exhibits that sticks with you, long after the glow of free wine fades.

See Faces through November 8 at Liliana Bloch Gallery, 2919 Commerce St, Ste C. Open 12-5:15 p.m. Tuesday - Saturday.

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