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Review: Otherness and American Values

D. Eric Bookhardt on Katrina Andry's prints at Staple Goods

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They are bold bordering on outrageous, even over the top. As woodcut prints go, most of them are exceptionally big, almost 5 feet tall, yet precisely rendered. Even so, expressionistic qualities make Katrina Andry's edgy images almost seem to pop out at you, for they deal not just with "otherness," but they do so in ways that are quite challenging. Most of her images of black female stereotypes are so outrageously executed that they come across like parodies of parodies. But this is where it gets tricky because stereotypes are essentially parodies that have gained some popular traction, so by pushing them beyond the pale, Andry indulges in a bit of imagistic jujitsu and, in effect, flings them back at us in ways that heighten their underlying tensions.

  Much of this focuses on the conflicts built into popular perceptions. For instance, Mammy Complex (pictured) depicts a white professional mom and a black nanny tending to the mom's two kids in a modern update of the old Southern domestic workers who used to mind the children of upper class white families. Here the black woman appears in blackface and outrageous clothes, highlighting her cultural "otherness" in contrast to the stiffly "proper" white woman, in a composition framed by a traditional American quilt pattern. But this is one of Andry's tamer works — her references to "jungle bunnies" in an adjacent woodcut are too complicated to discuss in brief. Another features a female African-American figure like a long-distance runner set against a quilt-like map of America surrounded by swarthy clapping hands. A caption reads, "The Keys to the Gated Community and White Acceptance," but gated communities are actually still segregated, if only by class. Such ironic, in-your-face, thematically confrontational works might come across as pedantically scolding were they not rendered with such a literally sharp knife and with such carnivalesque flair, making them ultimately sui generis, in a class by themselves. — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT

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