Deborah Oropallo's massive pieces command your attention the minute you enter the Stay ZaZa Art House & Social Gallery, a partnership with Santa Fe's Turner Carroll Gallery. It's a relatively small, simple event space with a chandelier interestingly tucked in the back right corner, black floors, and bright track lighting.
First of Oropallo's historical pieces, images of George Washington or a gladiator or other classic male power share portraits with a women's superimposed images. The poses are similar and so are the costumes. Both wear gear for doing battle. Only, for the women, that translates to short skirts and fishnets. For the men it means armor.
It's an astute commentary on our visions and expectations of the roles men and women play and what would happen were you to blur the two. The result is both attention-getting and provoking. How are the genders defined, the pieces ask. What part do costumes play in those definitions?
Interestingly, one piece, titled "Alice," shows a woman wearing the very same Mad Hatter costume I wore to the Mad Hatter's Ball this year. It's a traditionally male costume made feminine, adding yet another layer to this game.
Oropallo's other pieces in the show include "Randi" and "Colt," which both feature cowgirl portraits without faces. In "Colt" the dark parts of figure's cow print chaps look to be burned out and she has no head.
In "Randi," she has no face and wears a sexy cowgirl/Daisy Mae/Dallas Cowboys cheerleaderesque outfit over the more practical pants of another figure. She is no one. She is just an image. She is a costume, a parody, and a reminder of who women become when they don't define themselves and instead allow culture to do the defining.
Several of Oropallo's pieces also hang in the ZaZa lobby as opposed to the gallery, including "Cop," which is comprised of long brush strokes and what look to be labels or patches. The result is unnerving. The female form looks as if she's in a cage and yet she is, herself.
"Gladiatrix" and "George, State I" are both done as cotton Jacquard tapestries, as opposed to Oropallo's other pieces which are pigment on canvas or aluminum, giving them an even more classical feel. How strange if these were to be the "traditional" portraits of women that hung in galleries, all minis and riding crops and midriff-baring tops. Oropallo does an incredible job of asking our questions for us.
These works geisha-ize women. Sexualize them into immobility, like the female gladiator in "Gladiatrix" with the long impractical braid and equally impractical high heels. Oropallo's pieces, juxtaposing how men are portraitized versus how women are visualized, leaves no question about how things have to change if there is to be equality both looking back and moving forward.
In the back right corner of the space is work by Jenny Honnert Abell, mixed media work, including a series of eight numbered pieces each called "Book Cover."
They are each a tiny curiosity. A baby bird with a human baby's face sitting on a limb. Little girl legs hanging from what looks like an unraveled paper clip. A foot with medical notes and another foot coming from the heel, and a brain, perhaps, full of words coming from a stalk with a bird's head in the center of the brain. Bound hands. A tree made of real fabric. A ring of eyes. Bark from a number of pictures of trees. Each piece is created on what looks to be an actual book cover.
They are weird and wonderful. You can look at them indefinitely and find something new or have a different thought provoked with each glance.
She also had three large pieces in the show, "Always and Never," "Look," and, my favorite, "Just Another Day" with branches that end in heads of birds. They are wild and fascinating and welcome viewers to wonder.
"Look" is a "flower" or tree full of odd vintage images, a man strangling another man, a woman showering in a bucket from suspended jugs of water, a ballet dancer, a gondola, a woman reading on the sofa. It's all too bizarre not to look at. If art it to incite and invite, this work does it.
The show also includes work by Inez Storer. "Map of the World" is the centerpiece of her offerings. A series of small square paintings are hung like a quilt pattern, seven across and four down. Each square a drawing or painting or decoupage. An antique clock, a duck, faces, a flower pot, an x-rayed body. Like a vintage board game that you can't help but wonder how to play.
I had an interesting experience with one of her pieces, "Emperor Has No Clothes." Emperor was spelled incorrectly on the tag and I asked if that was on purpose. After several phone calls, it was confirmed that it was just a proofing error. The funny thing is that no one pointed it out, even after the massive opening they had just enjoyed. So, did no one notice, or was everyone just too nervous to be the one to point out that the emperor was naked. So curious.
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Her other pieces included, "White Tulips," "La Curandera," "Land of the Free," and Ordinary Life of Natalia Ortiz."
The show includes these artists together because they are all, well, west coast women. But you can also see a through line of history in them all, vintage images or materials, questions about the past, and stories or visions about the future. No matter the reason, it's a show to see, to question, and definitely to discuss. None of these are pieces that you will quickly leave you to be sure.
West Coast Women runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and by appointment during the week, through October 17. Call 214-912-7143 or visit hotelzazadallas.com.