JOHNSON CITY – “I believe in absolute freedom of expression,” author, poet and feminist Taslima Nasrin has said. “Everyone has a right to offend and be offended.”
The need and freedom to express the full spectrum of emotions and concerns through visual arts is the bedrock of the annual “FL3TCH3R Exhibit: Social and Politically Engaged Art,” an international juried exhibit, at East Tennessee State University’s Reece Museum. This year’s free public exhibit is now open and runs through Friday, Dec. 13.
Artistic expressions for the 2019 exhibition were considered from 27 states – from Tennessee to Texas and California to Florida – and seven countries, in addition to the U.S. Entries numbered 325 from 116 artists. Categories included fiber, jewelry/metals, painting, photography, digital, sculpture, printmaking, video, graphic design, ceramics and 2D and 3D mixed media. Eighty-two works by 62 artists were accepted, juried by activist and illustrator Sue Coe.
“Striking was our very first entry ever from Hong Kong and its profound cry for assistance and awareness of their plight in protesting human rights violations and abuses by the Chinese government,” says Barbara Dyer, co-director of the exhibit and a local lawyer. “It truly represents the best of socially and politically engaged art in these contemporary times. It is the zeitgeist/spirit of the times that always pops up in the entries received each year.”
While global issues are reflected in the seventh annual “FL3TCH3R Exhibit,” domestic strife this year is at the forefront of the entering artists’ minds.
“We have received more work that shows the frustration that artists and individuals feel regarding the current U.S. administration and political demeanor,” says co-director Wayne Dyer, a professor in the ETSU Department of Art and Design. “We anticipated in years past that we would see this; however, it has blossomed this year. Issues include the environment, social justice, abuse, racism, political issues, women's issues, gun violence, children's issues, immigration, and the list goes on.”
The Dyers’ son, Fletcher, inspired the exhibit. Fletcher Dyer, who died in 2009 at age 22, was an ETSU bachelor of fine arts senior in graphic design. Through his art, he liked to awaken others’ critical thinking about current events and social and political issues, the Dyers say. He encouraged others to propose bold visual statements and make a difference with their art.
In its six years, the “FL3TCH3R Exhibit” has inspired a lot of conversation and thought, says Reece Museum Director Randy Sanders. “Being in a museum – a welcoming space – one can engage the artwork privately or in dialogue with others,” he says. “Whatever the perspective, dialogue is the mission of the ‘FL3TCH3R Exhibit,’ and I think that is exactly how Fletcher Dyer would have wanted it.”
Not surprisingly, in reaction to this volatile world, some of the “FL3TCH3R” selections are less subtle than others, but Reece Exhibition Coordinator Spenser Brenner says most patron conversations stop short of combustion.
“Over the years, we’ve had mostly positive responses, or it’s a conversation,” he says. “I’ve seen people politely disagree and I have seen spirited debates that can get passionate over opposing viewpoints. But that’s the spirit and intention of the ‘FL3TCH3R Exhibit.’ In some cases, just reading the title can really elicit an emotional response.”
Fittingly, this year’s juror – illustrator Sue Coe – is a longtime activist, known for her stark renderings of victims and their tormentors. Her work includes illustrations of violence by the Ku Klux Klan, famine in Africa, AIDS and terrorism in Northern Ireland, as well as politics and “factory farms.” Coe also has long been a crusader against the use of animals in industry, medical research and genetic engineering and continues to raise the public's awareness of the abuse of living things through her visual art and books.
“We chose Sue Coe because for years, she has been an artist and illustrator who is an avid activist focusing on animal rights, but she also has explored other political issues, such as prisons, AIDS and war,” Barb Dyer says. “We believe she has a fine-tuned sensitivity toward social and politically expressed visual arts, and she has curated a wonderful collection of works.”
Coe will be on campus for a day to talk and meet with ETSU students in classrooms and critique their art, and on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 5 p.m., her juror’s talk will precede the exhibit awards ceremony and reception at Reece Museum.
The “FL3TCH3R Exhibit” also will provide additional opportunities for conversation through discussions and other activities. Collateral events will be posted at www.etsu.edu/reece under Exhibitions as they develop.
Co-sponsored by the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at ETSU, the exhibit continues to expand each year, with more than $1,000 in awards in 2019, in addition to the Fletcher H. Dyer Scholarship for an ETSU Art and Design student – and the scope of the exhibit broadens each year topically and geographically.
“We think we are definitely fulfilling Fletcher's dream of setting the venue for dialogue so that others would follow,” says Fletcher’s sister, Carrie Dyer, exhibit co-director and a graphic design professor at High Point University in North Carolina. “We have had many responses from artists and others who say the ‘FL3TCH3R Exhibit’ is one of very few places where these issues may be addressed and who express an appreciation for having such an opportunity.”
For more information on the exhibit, visit http://www.FL3TCH3Rexhibit.com or call the Reece Museum at 423-439-4392. To learn more about Fletcher Dyer, visit http://fletcherdyer.com/about.html. For more information on the Martin School of the Arts, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-TKTS (8587). For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.