This Art Gallery In Old North St. Louis Showcases The Diversity Of Womanhood

For an enlightened experience of femininity, the “Queen’s Pleasure” exhibition at UrbArts gallery in Old North St. Louis is a must-see, on view now through Dec. 31, 2017. The exhibition is a vibe, an openness, a declaration and an attitude. It’s a renegotiation of space and visibility, of memory and belonging. “It’s about the pleasures of womanhood and being comfortable in your own body,” says curator Lola Ogbara. “Whether it was displayed through a painting, or a sculpture, or a photograph—it really didn’t matter.”

An accomplished artist as well, Ogbara was approached earlier this fall by artist collective ARTC (pronounced “Art-C”) to curate the show. Though Ogbara had previously curated shows as part of a group effort, this was her first time curating solo, and she wanted the exhibition to be an especially memorable one.

“The experience was challenging, but I’m no stranger to challenge—I love a challenge. It’s a lot of work, but I love the end result,” says Ogbara. “I love giving the space and the opportunity to artists to say what they have to say.” That mission became her priority, as she deliberated which of her peers and fellow artists she hoped to include in the exhibition.

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“I Am the Eternal Feminine with its String of Beads” by Mady Patty

The shift to a curator mindset presented Ogbara with an exciting opportunity to consider the location of the exhibition as intentionally as its content. Most artists don’t spend an excessive amount of time thinking about the physical gallery or venue that will end up housing their work, and the temporary adjustment offered her a rarely explored perspective.

With the intention of curating a show that revealed complicated and sometimes intimate conversations about womanhood, pleasure and experience, a comfortable and welcoming space would be essential to the show’s success. “UrbArts is a great community hub for people of color, for artists, for poets, for creatives. It’s a meeting place, it’s healing place—a lot goes on there,” she says. “It plays a big factor—having the right space for what you’re trying to show, and what message you’re trying to get across through an exhibition.”

Keeping the show centered on artists who identify as female, Ogbara put her energy behind curating an exhibition that explored the experiences of womanhood and femininity across a variety of cultures and communities. Once that vision solidified, she reached out to women artists she had shown with in past, whose work she admired. The resulting exhibition was a thoughtful collection of diverse stories, featuring a lineup of artists as evocative and captivating as—well—womanhood itself.

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Piece by Jessica Bremehr

The “Queen’s Pleasure” exhibition includes work by Jessica Bremehr, Krista Valdez, Tia Payne, Eugenia Alexander, Kyla Hawkins, Anya Liao, Mady Patty, Erica Love Jones, Jessica Page and Ogbara, featuring photography, sculpture, installation pieces and more. “Whether their work dealt with body positivity or just navigating life as a woman in her particular body, I knew that their experiences were reflected in their work. Each artist’s womanhood was reflected in her work, and I wanted that for this show.”

The evening of the exhibition’s opening was a busy one, with First Friday’s coordinated monthly series making for an art-filled night of events and gallery receptions across the city. Though Old North is relatively removed from St. Louis’ Grand Center Arts District, “Queen’s Pleasure” was a hit. And, unlike other venues that perhaps attract the same faithful crowd every gallery reception, “Queen’s Pleasure” opened to an eclectic group of patrons from neighborhoods all over the city. “I’d never seen a lot of the people who came in that space before, so that was exciting. I was very proud to bring such a good mixture of people here,” says Ogbara. “It felt good to bring people from across the city to Old North.”

Since the December reception at UrbArts, visitors have been sharing their appreciation for the diverse, thoughtfully curated exhibition, showcasing women artists with a range of exhibition experience.

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“A Well of Walls Made of Forgotten Feelings” by Krista Valdez

“I really loved Anya Liao’s piece. It was kind of an installation piece, and it was really interesting. And, of course, I love Jessica Bremehr’s work, too—very colorful, very patterned and very free,” Ogbara explains, slowing down the last few words as she remembers witnessing Bremehr’s art in person. Flipping through photos from the show on her phone, she pauses for a second on each image to recall the experience all over again. “Kyla Hawkins—her portraits are insane, and her use of color is crazy. And Krista Valdez’s photos, of course. She puts herself in her work, as we artists love to do. But I always enjoy seeing her portraitures and her pictures.”

All ten artists displayed work that complemented her vision for the exhibition, offering an additional layer of experience and specificity, quirk and color, texture and voice. As talk turned to plans and projects in the future, Ogbara’s eyes lit with a distant energy, wheels turning in her mind. The artist—and curator—says she’s already collecting ideas for future shows and exhibitions to curate, laughing freely as she comments she’s ready for any—and everything—2018 brings her way.

“Queen’s Pleasure” is on view at UrbArts Gallery in Old North St. Louis from Dec. 1-31 by public event or appointment.

Cover image: “A Revolution on its Own” by Lola Ogbara. All images provided by Lola Ogbara.

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