Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just in from Spokane

Spokane, Washington, is living its second renaissance which means, among many things, it is rediscovering and restoring many of its fabulous old buildings. This evokes lots of local history and brings some of it to the forefront. As a visual artist who is interested in social issues and in the human condition, I was particularly struck by the fact that Spokane used to have a thriving red-light market in the early 20th century.

There is one particular building I saw restored which became Isabella's Restaurant. The story goes that a madame called Isabella used to operate there, selling young ladies' services to the local male population. The restaurant was named after her because it is believed that her spirit has never left.
Thus this story goes to the heart of my art. I approach the human condition with compassion. I created close-ups of six women (Suzi, Theresa, Anne, Katherine, Ms. O and Isabella), fictional characters as I imagined them: Tired, unhealthy, beautiful, girlish or down-trodden in their body language, submissive or withdrawn, perhaps lonely. It was a somewhat new approach for me visually because these are individuals with names and faces, they are real flesh and blood, not just "concepts" of my ideas about human social conditions. The personal meets the political here.

"Madame Isabella"

I put them into a domestic background with shabby walls with fading colors and wall decoration (which is, by the way, Hungarian in color and pattern). The walls are as neglected as the women are. The women look as hopeless as their futures. I immediately feel compassion instead of condemnation and judgment. Most onlookers are immediately drawn to these ladies and feel the sense of sadness and see tremendous beauty and potential too. That makes it bittersweet to me.--Ildikó Kalapács

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