Breaking Stereotypes in #MeToo Era

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The artists behind “Don’t Be Still” want their audience to take the message literally. They did.

“I was painting in my studio one day, and I heard dimly in the background about pay equality for women and the need for legislation,” said artist John W. Carlson. “I was just, ‘did I just hear that?’”

The Cleveland painter teamed up with filmmaker Robert Banks to challenge gender stereotypes and inequities through their artwork.

Don’t Be Still,” at the HEDGE Gallery in Cleveland through April 27, features Carlson’s paintings and Banks’ black-and-white short films. The two developed an archetype for their work inspired by a painting by surrealist René Magritte, and they asked several women models to pose for them in a “little black dress” with a white hood over their heads.

“If you don’t see the person that you’re hanging, or you don’t see the person you’re abusing, or you don’t see the person you disregard, then they don’t exist,” Carlson said.

Banks filmed the models while they physically responded to thoughts about oppression or assault against them or other women. Carlson then painted from still images of the film sessions.

“We wanted to do something that was very grassroots but very gritty, and that was really in your face at the same time,” Banks said.

While the idea blossomed well before the #MeToo era, this exhibit falls at a time of heightened awareness to sexual harassment and assault.

The gallery director, Hilary Gent, was one of the models for the project, and she shared a written testimonial from her experience participating.

“When I put the white hood on my head, I was taken back in time to my seventh grade year, twelve or thirteen years old; young, naive, happy,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, during my early teen years, someone did take advantage of me, and I lost a piece of my innocence. The hood allowed me to personally reflect on these times of my life which are often still haunting. I felt an openness to react to these feelings with movement, which I found, was easier than trying to verbally communicate my emotions.”

Banks and Carlson are also communicating non-verbally through the short films and paintings, and Banks said the target audience is men.

“We wanted the average common man of the 21st century to be aware behind anything and everything that a woman has to deal with everyday there’s other things outside of that and it’s almost like a daily challenge for any woman, especially right now,” he said.

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