The first thing that caught my attention upon entering “Boundaries: Stolen Water” was the sound of cracking and popping under my feet — I was walking on the artwork! Or part of it anyway. This heralded a show of unconventional art and challenging concepts, the first effort of the Yale International Art Society.
The show’s name came from Proverbs 9:16-17, which begins, “Stolen waters are sweet.” On a quick look around, the artwork, ranging from macaroni pasta collages to pornographic images, did not seem to tie to the show’s concept. And much of it was not even pleasant to look at. But the small explanations next to the pieces drew the show together and explained the theme.
The work was from artists around the world, ranging from age 8 to adult, none of whom are Yale students. Members of YIAS found the pieces largely through word of mouth or through friends’ recommendations. The artwork was not bright and carefree, particularly the pieces from Mexico, Russia and Israel. Issues of identity, religion, war and gender were dealt with in many of the works, all of which were put into perspective by the difficult lives of many of their creators. The macaroni collage displaying tanks and bombs, called “F— the Jihad,” was created by a young Israeli man. One Spanish woman, a former sex worker, created a collage of pornographic photos from magazines, dealing with her issues of sexual liberation.
A crayon drawing, “Los Blancos Gordos y Malos,” by a Mexican 8-year-old named Miguel, carried the politically charged note, “because George W. Bush will not grant asylum to political prisoners like Miguel, young Miguel languishes in Nuevo Laredo without a father, without a home and without a future.”
The art work was a refreshing change from the standard art shows, even if some of it was still unconvincing in its merit. The bubble wrap on the floor, the only interactive piece, remained unexplained. At one place in the exhibit, there was a soggy cracker in a bag stuck to the wall. The medium? Semen, snack cracker and Ziploc bag. Yum. Some pieces warranted more explanation, but the overall effect of repulsion and then curiosity at the pieces seemed to be the greater point of the show.
But the pieces did fit together in a bigger picture. Most of the pieces explored cultural and gender issues from a perspective external to Yale, a refreshing change. The challenging tone of the collection was well-suited to the topic of crossing boundaries, which the art itself did in its message and its style.
The YIAS is a fledgling society, and the diversity of their chosen artwork was impressive. The pieces used a range of media (thankfully no more bodily fluids) and covered a striking range of topics, even if unconventionally. The show was a chance for fledgling artists, professional and novice, to express themselves. The result was not always soothing, but in walking through the hallowed halls of the Met, sometimes art seems like it could use a little punch. The art was not pretentious or daunting. It was simple and usually very clear, deepened with short stories about the artists themselves.
The show was definitely worth a quick run-through, if just to experience its alternative style and conquer the initial urge to write it off as worthless.