On Thursday, Jan. 16, the Kenyon community gathered inside Gund Gallery to celebrate the opening of two new exhibitions: Axis Mundo, a celebration of queer artists in Chicano L.A. from the late 1960s to early 1990s, and Alumnae: 50 Years, which featured the works of Ashley Yang-Thompson ’15 and Ally Schmaling ’14.
Axis Mundo follows the stories of a community that has been largely ignored in the art world, queer Chicanx artists in L.A. The exhibit shows the evolution of the artists’ styles throughout the late 20th century while celebrating their personal and cultural identities. The exhibit is structured chronologically to demonstrate how these artists followed artistic trends throughout the decades, but put personal twists on it at the same time. The exhibit paid particular notice to Mundo Meza, a very active member of the L.A. LGBTQ+ rights movement who died of AIDS in 1985. The works on display show how Meza’s style transitioned from the surrealist trends of the 1960s to the rising punk aesthetic of the 1980s. The exhibit showcases a large array of mediums, ranging from oil paintings and photography to self-published magazines and fashion.
The exhibit celebrates and commemorates a very expressive art community and helps to inform the public of individuals who are often overlooked because of their sexual and racial identities. Axis Mundo not only helps the viewer learn more about the artistic trends of the time period, but also makes them aware of a passionate group of activists seeking acceptance for their identities.
The second exhibit that opened on Thursday was Alumnae: 50 Years, which featured alumnae artists Ashley Yang-Thompson ’15 and Ally Schmaling ’14. Yang-Thompson—or Miss Expanding Universe, as she likes to be credited—is most notable for her collection of zines, a self-published mini magazine, titled Worm House. A main idea that unifies her zine issues is that, to heal the world, one first has to heal themselves. Throughout her zines she explores gender and sexual identities, asking her readers to embrace themselves completely while also asking them to examine their relationship with pop culture.
This relationship can also be seen in the works of the second artist: Schmaling, who photographed a series of candid portraits where their subjects were allowed complete freedom of how they expressed themselves in the photographs, creating an “annihilation of gender.” This destruction of gender stereotypes was further emphasized by the high saturation and dramatic lighting of the works, which made them reminiscent of fashion shoots and runway aesthetics, creating a parallel between these true expressions of self and what can be interpreted as a jaded and critical industry.
The ideas presented in both artists’ works fit into the overall theme of the Alumnae exhibit, which is how bodies interact with their environment, by challenging the viewer to act more individualistic and learn to celebrate their identity to a fuller extent, interacting with their surroundings in a more fulfilling way.