In and out: Feminist Union of Charlottesville Creatives explore new selves

“Inside” features work by 18 local female-identifying, gender-queer, and non-binary artists in an online exhibition in collaboration with The Gallery at Studio IX. Viewers can attend the show’s online reception on July 23 from 5 to 6:30pm via Zoom. Go to heyfucc.com for more information. Courtesy of the Artists “Inside” features work by 18 local female-identifying, gender-queer, and non-binary artists in an online exhibition in collaboration with The Gallery at Studio IX. Viewers can attend the show’s online reception on July 23 from 5 to 6:30pm via Zoom. Go to heyfucc.com for more information. Courtesy of the Artists

The acronym for the Feminist Union of Charlottesville Creatives—FUCC—is pronounced exactly like the four-letter word it brings to mind.

“FUCC facilitates opportunities for our members to have an outlet for their creative expression,” says mixed-media artist and member Sri Kodakalla, “Especially during times of uncertainty, it can be such an empowering thing to be a part of a community of like-minded individuals.”

Founded in 2017 by sculptor Lily Erb and painter Sam Gray, FUCC began as a means to connect and support female-identifying, gender-queer, and non-binary artists through events like clothing swaps, art shows, and ideas exchanged over social media.

In late 2019 and early 2020, they began planning and collecting submissions for their first juried show, “Enough,” to be held in the summer at The Gallery at Studio IX. The show would include a dance party, spoken word performances—a “whole extravaganza,” Kodakalla says. It was part of the FUCC’s effort to hold events that brought artists together to collaborate and share their skills.

But as COVID-19 took hold, arts communities and organizations in Charlottesville and around the world had to cancel in-person events. (Americans for the Arts estimates that due to coronavirus, nonprofit arts organizations have lost nearly $5 billion, with 62 percent of creative workers and artists now unemployed.)

With the help of fellow FUCC member and printmaker Ramona Martinez (a C-VILLE Weekly contributor), Kodakalla did what artmaking asks of its participants every day: Come up with a new idea.

The “Enough” show became “Inside,” an online exhibition in collaboration with Studio IX that showcases the work of 18 local womxn artists, including Erb, Gray, Kodakalla, Martinez, Laura Lee Gulledge, Barbara Shenefield, Hannah ThomasClarke, Abigail Wilson, and others. In each of the works displayed in the virtual show, the artists present unique and deeply personal responses to the internal, external, local, and global chasmic shifts of today’s reality.

“A lot of people have decided that they aren’t going back to work the way they used to,” says Kodakalla. “Or that they won’t take on every opportunity as they come—that they’ll save money, volunteer, and do more social justice outreach. They’re realizing that they’re an introvert, or need more time to themselves. …While the theme of the show is reflection, it encompasses so much more than that.”

As viewers scroll through the works of “Inside,” they can click each image to read an artist statement and bio. Though medium and palette vary widely, perhaps what unites the show is an exploration of the body and its complex relationship with interior and exterior forces—the mind, the natural world, and other beings who inhabit that world. In some pieces, figures reach and fall through empty, dark voids; in others, plants, animals and the man-made anxiously encroach upon human forms as they envelop faces or entire bodies. 

Martinez points to Shannon Smith’s digital print, “Shift,” which juxtaposes the body’s organic shapes against the sharp, repeated edges of geometric shapes—all portrayed in a palette of saturated jewel tones and pastels. It’s a response to the deep grief and mourning she felt over the abrupt end to her college career, Smith says in her artist’s statement. She uses the female form as a means to explore her body in quarantine.

Painter Meghan Smith also investigates quarantine through the lens of the female body. In “Pink Light,” she presents a tense, uncomfortable self-portrait with three hands grasping to apply makeup to her face. One draws a dark line into her eyebrow and another applies concealer under her eye as a black bra pokes out above her tank top.

“Even in isolation, where in theory I could finally indulge a ‘self’ that has nothing to do with how others see me, I’m still stuck in that cycle,” Smith writes in her artist statement. “To feel productive, I need a bra and combed hair and plucked eyebrows. To speak confidently on Zoom, I need my heavy-duty concealer and a fake plastered smile. My outside still dictates my inside and I’m not sure how to escape.”

For Martinez, it’s not surprising that the outside world shapes one’s internal world. She believes the internal is a microcosm for the external.

“It’s no accident that all of these massive societal changes are taking place a few months after everyone is forced to be inside with their demons,” she says. “It’s a huge transition energetically.”

It’s a transition that Martinez, Kodakalla, and many others are still getting used to. They miss the energy of FUCC’s in-person events and the opportunities they presented to connect. Yet, the co-curators feel hopeful about what experiencing art virtually could inspire for artists and art-appreciators alike. They are planning more shows like “Inside” and more opportunities for artists through media like zines, snail mail, and public street art.

“As artists, how can we communicate about this moment that we’re in and the old world dying?” Martinez asks. “How can we as a collective take those ideas and have a conversation with others who find our work? …We want it to exist beyond the gallery scene.”

Kodakalla, too, speaks to the possibility that the idea of normal no longer exists. She seems to stand resiliently against a world where daily conversations among co-workers, friends, or family members invoke phrases like “when this is over,” or “when things go back to normal.” And maybe, that’s a beautiful thing.

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