‘Who’s afraid of cartoony figuration?’ might sound like a rhetorical question, but given the themes on display at Dallas Contemporary’s exhibit of that name, it may not be. The exhibit, on view through September 22, features four distinct artists, Umar Rashid, Sally Saul, Karolina Jabłońska, and Tabboo! who take a spirited, honest approach to their art, representing themes of feminism, decolonialism, and queer identity. Each artist creates with levity and irreverence, inspired by comics and cartoons, to present work that unsuspectingly comments on compelling socio-political issues.
Sally Saul has many decades of experience behind her in sculpting with her whimsical, playful style, creating colorful works that capture her experience as a woman and ordinary life as she experiences it. She crafts carefully, but her designs are often uncomplicated human forms, animals, or nature depictions. Saul derives inspiration from her own memories and human experience to mold clay in touching and sometimes humorous ways.
Umar Rashid, also known as Frohawk Two Feathers, has long focused on painting a history of colonization that reframes the narrative and brings Black, Brown, and First People into the picture. His paintings pull inspiration from French, English, Dutch, and Native American art, and include references to pop culture, to the effect of a stylistically blended epic chronicle. He follows a group of rebels as they chart an alternative 18th century history through the countryside, merging fiction with reality, giving a fresh voice to historically marginalized groups.
Krakow-based Karolina Jabłońska brings us her U.S. artistic debut in her series created for Dallas Contemporary. She paints expressive self portraits in a figuratively distinct style, depicting scenes of herself in the kitchen as a reflection on typically-gendered spaces within domestic life. In her artwork, she struggles with boiling soup, her apron catching fire, and jars of pickles, communicating strong feelings through color and intensity, while also representing traditional Polish food. The feminist movements in Poland which changed the political landscape drastically have been a great inspiration to Jabłońska.
Tabboo! first used his artistic skills to promote his drag act on posters and flyers. The New York-based artist has been a frontline figure in queer culture since the 1980s, which has continued to influence his work, though he pulls design inspiration from a dozen varied sources, including the Weimar Republic’s visuals, ancient Greece, and punk-collage. The artworks for this exhibit were selected from different decades, allowing visitors to see into his artistic process at many points in his career, during which he has walked the line between performance, art, and social commentary.
Though these artists’ work covers a range of topics, themes, and artistic styles, there is a cohesive nature to the display as a whole. It not only celebrates artistic capacity but invites a deeper engagement with a style genre that unexpectedly tackles the complexities of the contemporary world. In a climate full of polarization on any and all issues, marrying light-hearted attitudes with heavier substance might be a way to engage with themes which are otherwise difficult to touch.