‘Babylon in the Heart and Mind’ exhibit opens in Monroe, Wis., March 21

“Adoration,” 2011, mixed media
“Adoration,” 2011, mixed media

Online Staff Report

MONROE, Wis. — Monroe Art Center (MAC) Frehner Gallery hosts the new gallery exhibit “Babylon in Heart and Mind,” on display from March 21 through May 2. This exhibit showcases the rich, vibrant and intricate mixed-media artwork by Milwaukee artist Barbara Kohl-Spiro.

Jewish culture has a strong influence on Barbara’s work, and it is close to her heart, as she kept a home in Israel for 20 years. She is particularly interested in art made by common people of various cultures where the art is a reflection of their belief system. Inspired by the concept of Shiviti, fabrics often hung in synagogues as a graphic aid for contemplating the divine presence of God, the artist looks to various cultural textiles to create her own interpretation of the Shiviti Fabric of Prayer. Instead of fabrics, Spiro uses the medium of handmade paper to create her own interpretation of Shiviti.

At first glance in a photo or on a computer screen, the intricate detail of the pieces might lead one to believe they are viewing tapestries. However, while inspired by fabric creations from India, Russia, Israel and Brazil, these large-scale pieces are actually hand-painted on paper. To truly capture the texture and vibrancy of the pieces, they should be seen in person.

Spiro finds it important to note that in many cultures, art is not separate from the lives of its practitioners. Quilts, amulets, blankets and tapestries, which are usually created by women, are used as part of daily life or during milestones such as funerals and weddings. These anonymous women do not make these pieces for the purposes of displaying in a museum, thus creating some of the most honest artistic representations of their cultures in the process. Through decorative arts, these women manifest their belief systems and create the centerpieces of their culture from a soulful expression of love, of life and love of God. “Great art is not separated out into a museum,” Spiro said, “but rather it is at the heart of a rich culture.”

After becoming inspired by Indian textiles, Spiro wanted to “bring part of them and womanhood, and put them in a new context.” She was first called upon by Highland Park High School in Chicago for a Focus on Art Project where she worked with students to install the work in a non-permanent installation. Several strips were then combined to create larger pieces and were exhibited in the Golda Meir Library at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Spiro’s work has spanned over five decades and has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. Her work is in the collections at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Albright Knox Museum in Buffalo, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Israel Museum of Jerusalem, and in numerous private collections in the U.S. and Israel.

On exhibit in MAC’s Wesley Hall is the work by artists participating in the 27th Annual Wisconsin Regional Art Program (WRAP) Competition. Kohl-Spiro will serve as judge for this competition. An opening reception for both exhibits is scheduled for 5-7 p.m., Friday, March 21, in MAC Frehner Gallery. A brief gallery talk by Spiro will begin at 5:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

Posted March 19, 2014

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