In My Backyard: An Exhibition Statement From Curator Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

Curator Statements Exhibitions Features 4 min read

From Margaret Mitchell’s iconic novel Gone with the Wind and Hitchcock’s Rear Window to Leonora Carrington’s surreal self-portraits and TV’s Downton Abbey, artists, writers, and filmmakers have explored the intersections between the familiar rituals of home and the unpredictable world outside. As spring casts its spell, the work in our April exhibition, In My Backyard, captures the tranquility, cultural nuances, sense of community, and dangers lurking outside our back doors. Exploring the fragile boundaries between inside and out, this month’s artists uncover the hidden significance of everyday objects, anticipate unseen threats, and revel in the restorative quality of nature while giving insights into their personal terrain. Whether gathering with friends on the porch, dancing around a fire pit, assessing border security, or reminiscing about idyllic childhood spaces, they spin a web between identity and place.

Encompassing video, painting, textiles, photography, and installation, the pieces In My Backyard, selected from submissions to NOT REAL ART’s biennial grant, say as much about the people who made them as the places behind them. Racist lawn ornaments threaten children growing up around them. A child wielding a toy AK-47 brings home the precariousness of American life. A young boy hangs over a chain link fence that looks incapable of warding off a giant tiger pacing outside. Celebrations of color and light and vibrant images of flora offer release from the pressures of 21st-century life. While much of the work extols the joys of communing with nature, there’s a subtle tension between containment and the wild. The work in In My Backyard navigates the edges between security and danger, community and isolation, and anxiety and peace, addressing age-old human needs to stake out a plot of land and seek solace in the natural world.

View In My Backyard via the button below, then scroll down for details about the artists and their work.

Refuge and Release

Our fourth exhibition of the year, ‘In My Backyard,’ captures the tranquility, cultural nuances, sense of community, and dangers lurking in our backyards.
‘Screened In’ by Jasmine Best

Honoring the in-person connections of a bygone era, Jasmine Best lovingly describes her grandmother’s screened-in porch as an “informal place of belonging that encouraged neighbors to converse, children to come home, and past generations to be remembered.” Judy McSween’s abstract painting “Drink and Dance With One Hand Free,” inspired by gatherings around a fire during the pandemic, explodes with movement and color. Environmentalist Susan Chambers and mixed-media artist Anya Kotler riff on the Garden of Eden, while Jeff Patterson finds tranquility and inspiration in his favorite park. Nadia Ogunfowora’s serene image of a woman basking in the sun surrounded by flowers and butterflies invites viewers to step into the plein air and find their bliss.

Dangers, Real and Perceived

Our fourth exhibition of the year, ‘In My Backyard,’ captures the tranquility, cultural nuances, sense of community, and dangers lurking in our backyards.
‘Automatic Fun’ by Nathaniel Lewis

Nathaniel Lewis’s jarring photograph of his son brandishing a toy assault rifle evokes thoughts of Diane Arbus’ “Boy with a Hand Grenade“ and the incipient violence of Lord of the Flies. Tirtza Even’s prescient experimental film Land Mine challenges notions of Israel’s “iron-clad” borders through footage of a decaying Jerusalem apartment building and a flimsy barbed wire fence. Brett Madsen’s painting “Over the Fence” touches on themes of belonging, alienation, and indoctrination from the perspective of a closeted child, while Shannon Evans shares her outrage over her state’s repressive anti-abortion laws with fiery bursts of color. Lua Kobayashi’s eerie nocturnal view of a backlit figure confronting a neighbor in a doorway raises questions about the safety of suburban living. Laura Kay Keeling’s collaged image of an orchid alludes to a beloved family vacation spot where things went wrong.

Outdoor Objects and Artifacts

Our fourth exhibition of the year, ‘In My Backyard,’ captures the tranquility, cultural nuances, sense of community, and dangers lurking in our backyards.
‘Ms. Merri Mack's Journey’ (detail) by Karmimadeebora McMillan

In her mixed-media installation “Ms. Merri Mack's Journey,” Karmimadeebora McMillan looks back on the racially charged yard ornaments that made her feel unwelcome as a child. Margaret Zox Brown’s wry painting of a woman taking out the garbage deftly combines domestic rituals and objects. Naomi Nevo Ben Ari’s tender painting of a potted plant, Shani Strand’s lawn chair design reaching back to her Caribbean roots, and Elizabeth Alexander’s sculpted scraps of floral wall paper have a seductive sense of nostalgia. Lauren Peterson‘s picnic-like installation “Still Life with Fowls, Pretzels and Beer” conjures memories of spontaneous outdoor gatherings while finding meaning in the mundane.

The Lushness of Nature

‘Prospect Park Light’ by Heidi Dehncke-Fisher
‘Prospect Park Light’ by Heidi Dehncke-Fisher

Yeon Joo Lee’s surreal paintings of cacti offer refuge from anxiety and stress while illustrating a keen eye for color and form and attesting to the richness of her imagination. James Hsieh’s textile-based landscape “Fortress,” inspired by childhood memories of his grandparents’ farm in Taiwan, delves into Jungian terrain. Sooo-z Mastropietro’s whimsical outdoor yarn-bombing installations intervene in the landscape by transferring knitwear to oak limbs. Heidi Dehncke-Fisher’s reverent study of morning light streaming into a Brooklyn park and Ellen Mitchell’s meditative photos of trees address the simple pleasures of slipping out the backdoor and reveling in the lushness of nature.

All photos published with permission of the artist(s); featured graphics for In My Backyard by David Schwartz.

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