Though the space was procured initially with the intention of using the back room for sculpting and makeup artistry, this idea was very quickly eclipsed. The popularity of the gallery and time-consuming nature of curation meant I had little, if any, time to pursue my own artistry—let alone space to store any of my tools! This was particularly apparent once I began working a daytime job again shortly after starting the gallery—you can only find so many hours in the day. But that was okay. As I was learning, curating was certainly an art of its own. And as I found myself curating more and more, I found myself enjoying it more and more.
That paused when I was invited by friends for a solo exhibition at Artistic Indulgence, a gallery and frame shop also located in Northeast Minneapolis. A bright space in an increasingly active commercial district, the gallery had featured a variety of local artists like Adam Turman and Lauri Svedberg, and they also offered archiving and framing services. Owners Mike and Irene Menasco, both artists themselves, were transplants to the frozen tundra like me. As our businesses evolved, we connected over art, being new in Minnesota, and the struggles of running a start-up. They wanted to help support my gallery and thought hosting an exhibit with my work would be a good way to promote both the gallery as a neighboring venue and me as an artist.
Before this time I had worked in makeup artistry as a profession, and their offer would mark one of my first times crafting masks and executing makeup purely for art’s sake. We had a quick turnaround time, but it wound up being an interesting exhibit to pull together. It featured a variety of mixed media using the prosthetics skills I’d honed in Southern California. As I prepared, I solicited help from friends, who graciously posed for photography, castings, and mask applications. And of course, I had a binder with which to organize my sketches and projects as they progressed! As I mentioned earlier, my coworkers were quite supportive of my creative endeavors. My colleague Andy willingly let me take a mask of his face to use for the solo exhibit at Artistic Indulgence, and his soon-to-be wife, Lynn, modeled for some of my photographs along with a few other friends.
I created a series of seasons, with masks featuring spring, summer, autumn, and winter. I created four sculptures of cupped hands, each bringing a separate gift: water, life, oil, and blood. I created two works of perspective, in which the viewer had to see pictures along the edge of a mirror by placing their face through a mask, forcing them into another’s perspective. The works were a little political, perhaps a little heavy handed, but fun to execute nonetheless.
The opening included both a traditional artist reception and a demo mixed in. I set out all of my mask-making materials and guided guests through the sculpting and prosthetics processes. My friend Emily graciously volunteered to model, and I turned her into a zombie for the evening. Though none of my monster art sold (I’m sorry, Mike and Irene!) it was a fun partnership, and I was grateful for the support of peers in the community. The exhibit gave Altered Esthetics some additional exposure, helped me learn about other gallery operations hands-on, and perhaps more importantly: gave me an opportunity to dig into the wonderful feeling of creating art for art’s sake, like I was trying to do for others. Having time and energy available to nurture my creative inclinations would be something that ebbed and flowed for me in the years to come.
Years later I would learn that Sri Lanka, my father’s country, also has a deep history of maskmaking. Learning more about my own culture and family origins would continue to inform both my practice and curation in the years to come.
This post is adapted from It’s Never Going To Work: A Tale of Art and Nonprofits in the Minneapolis Community with illustrations by Athena Currier. Post graphics by Jamie Schumacher. ©2018 Jamie Schumacher.
It’s Never Going To Work is a light-hearted, illustrated book that offers real-life insights on founding a community space and nonprofit. It provides tools, tips, resources, and camaraderie to community organizers and anybody attempting something new.