“A Seat at the Table”

Curated by Catherine Lentini

SPRING/BREAK Art Show room 1168

Calling upon the tradition of still life painting, this body of work by Ohio based artist Katie Butler uses everyday objects and settings to subtly address contemporary political issues. The carefully constructed paintings of the still life genre, emerging in the 1600s, had long been governed by social, economic, formal and technical codes. Though complex meanings were more associated with “higher” genres of the time such as history painting and portraiture, still life painting reflected the sociocultural and political aspects of the era. Through a contemporary lens and without strict conventions or an academic hierarchy, still life paintings serve as cultural signifiers that reflect the issues and ideologies of society.

Butler subverts the technical norms of the still life genre in the 17th century to question the current power dynamics at play in the patriarchal structure of the United States. This solo exhibition of her work challenges the phrase “a seat at the table” in American politics. Individuals who have been historically marginalized in our society are beginning to fill more, and larger, roles in our system of government. While this is a tremendously important step to achieving a more equal and just future for all, there are systemic issues that remain. What if you have a seat at the table, but the table itself is not designed for you? What if the table was, at its origin, designed to work against you?

The paintings draw you in with nostalgic patterns and soft hues. A dinner party which appears inviting at first glance becomes uncomfortable upon further investigation. Illogical shifts in perspective disorient the painting space. Sharp knives teeter on the edge of a plane, heightening the sense of trepidation. Exaggerations in scale and tight compositions fuel that tension. Gutted, fileted, and consumed, fish and other crustaceans stare at the viewer with anxious eyes. These strategies bring danger and impracticality to the tablescape. Yet all of this exists in a space that feels familiar and safe, which leads us to question our own comfort with the status quo. With this body of work, Butler draws attention to the challenges that women and minorities face in our current systems of power and looks towards a future where everyone has equal access to the table and all it has to offer.