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New Penticton art exhibits shine light on inner beauty

Kona Sankey posed as the model for a recent artist drop-in, life-drawing event in conjunction with The Audacity of Taking Up Space exhibit at the Penticton Art Gallery.
Image Credit: Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative

In the darkened gallery, the eyes of the large nude canvas portraits seem to follow the viewer from one painting to the next.

From their vantage point and by the strokes of the artists who painted them, these older subjects are portrayed as women of power, grounded in a sense of self-worth and a distinctive beauty all of their own. 

They are part of the “The Audacity of Taking up Space,” a unique exhibit on now at the Penticton Art Gallery.

Guest curator Laurie Landry of Vancouver has joined with five other artists with the goal of helping others see the beauty that exists in places most people never see.

“This comes from observations in the media, both traditional and social, as to what it is to be identified as a female, which is being thin, young and light-skinned, and if you don’t fit into that idea you would be ignored,” said Landry. 

“These works of art are created by women of different ages, disabilities and ethnicities with the idea that all bodies are beautiful and deserve to be viewed equally.

“People want us to fade away and we’re just not willing to do that and that’s what this exhibit is really all about.”

Landry, like some of other artists in the exhibition, has a disability. She is deaf and, like the others, includes that in her own works.

“I feel that being able to paint myself in this exhibit I’m able to come to certain self-assessments of how I look and move in the world,” she said in an interview with the assistance of a sign language interpreter. 

“Also, many disabled artists don’t always get the recognition for their work so that was my goal and Penticton gave me that opportunity.”

For artist Nicole Sleeth, who produced some of the largest and most striking paintings, there is one thing she hopes people who see the exhibit take away.

“I hope they come away feeling the humanity of the people that I paint and that women in particular are above anybody’s approval or disapproval, that we exist beyond that,” she said in a telephone interview from Newfoundland, where she is in residence. 

“To me it’s about who is afforded space in our society and also in galleries and in paintings and on walls.

“There is a very physical aspect to paintings and how large they are and how they do take up space when historically only certain models or certain appearances were afforded that space. So, to give this physical space and kind of mental space to female artists and artists with disabilities to do portraits of people who don’t get as portrayed as they should, I think there is a definite need for that and it’s about time too.”

Sleeth is careful about the models she chooses and how they are treated on the canvas.

“What I do is make the model very much the subject not the object,” she said. “She (model) has an agency about her and she is often making eye contact with the viewer and you can’t really stare at the painting without accountability.”

Each Saturday, from 1-3 p.m., through Nov. 5, the gallery is offering a life-drawing opportunity for local artists to come in and paint or sketch a model in conjunction with the exhibit.

Art in action at the Penticton Art Gallery exhibition The Audacity of Taking Up Space.
Art in action at the Penticton Art Gallery exhibition The Audacity of Taking Up Space.
Image Credit: Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative

On a recent Saturday, the model was Kona Sankey, a director on the art gallery’s board.

“This show has real meaning to me as someone with a disability,” said Sankey, who has scoliosis, the same condition as another one of the featured artists. 

“For me that makes it a body-positive exhibit. I’ve often found there seems to be this audacity that I would take up space and that holding a place in art is contrary to art.

“It’s a beautiful exhibit and has so much meaning to it for me.”

Other contributing artists include, A.J. Brown, Sára Molcan and Annette Nieukerk.

According to Nieukerk, after a career spanning five decades, she has moved back to her true passion of figurative work.

“I find that as I age I am no longer content to portray youthful, lithesome bodies that throughout history have been subject of figurative projects,” she said.

Running in conjunction with “The Audacity of Taking Up Space” is another exhibit titled “From Darkness to Light,” by Deborah Dowsett, who offers a visual journey of her life as a homeless drug addict on Vancouver’s east side to where she is now.

A third exhibit on now is “A Journey Through Scoliosis,” by student artist Saghi Eteshamzadeh, a multi-disciplinary project of living with the disorder.

The three exhibits run through Nov. 5.

— This story was originally published by the Penticton Herald.

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