Instead of receiving unwanted catalogs and junk mail, imagine going to the mailbox and finding an original artwork the size of a postcard, addressed to you, from someone who lives in Bulgaria. Now imagine receiving five to six postcards each day, until you have more than 80, from strangers who live in our region, nationally and internationally. That’s the process that took place for “STOP IT! An International Mail Art Exhibition,” opening Tuesday, April 23, at Gallery 208, 208 Rowan St.
The exhibit is traveling from Fayetteville State University’s Rosenthal Gallery, where 85 works were exhibited this March after a call for art went out in December 2018.
The call for art invited women from around the world to participate by creating an image on a postcard that illustrates any local, national or international issue of their concern. They were then directed to send it through the mail to its destination: Fayetteville, North Carolina.
The work was not sent to the gallery in an envelope. Instead, artwork had to go through the postal system in the postcard format and have an authentic postal stamp on its front or back upon arrival. As it went through the postal system, coming from another country or locally, every postal employee whose hand touched the card could see the work before it arrived at the gallery. In this way, all those postal employees were part of the mail art process.
Creating works of art on postcards and sending them in the mail to someone, a practice that started in the 1950s, became known as mail art and had grown into a movement by the ’60s. Although social media can appear similar in some ways to mail art, what makes mail art different is the tactile experience of opening your mailbox and the surprise of receiving something created for you. It is not considered mail art until it is delivered to the post office.
The purpose of mail art, then and now, is the creation of an inclusive scope that allows any artist to participate. Mail art artists appreciate the challenge of working on the limited postcard size along with the interconnection with other artists within a medium that promotes an egalitarian way of creating. The mail art process sidesteps entry fees, the art market and galleries.
“STOP IT!” is a different type of gallery experience. The exhibit represents the voice of a collective coming together to have their voices heard in an art form.
All the participants in the exhibit became part of a nonhierarchical, uncensored call for art and social activism by addressing any concern they have for a local, regional, national or international issue that needs to be stopped.
Visitors should plan on spending time in the gallery. The works are small, and many artists have written text on the stamp side (which is also displayed).
As the postcards arrived at the gallery, it became evident there were repeated issues of concern. At the discretion of the curator, liberty was taken to group the work into themes to create a sense of order in the gallery space. Eightyfour works are grouped by themes and also by geographic location — regional (Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina), national and international.
As a collective, the concerns of the women in “STOP IT!” fall into the following categories: stopping violence against women and children; environmental issues; the empowerment of women and individuals; cultural awareness; politics; mental and physical health; and the influence of technology on identity.
Whether it is Suzanne Coles from Michigan, who addresses homelessness through the medium of photography, or Shennaire Williams from Jamaica, who addresses human trafficking with a computer-generated image, each artist is part of the collective voices of women.
Many artists, like Radosveta Zhelyazkova from Bulgaria, focused on stopping violence against women and children. Zhelyazkova sent in two acrylic paintings, each a portrait of a woman. The figure on the card reflects on stopping violence against women. Six local artists created original works in a variety of mediums to address this same issue: Angela Stout, Ria Westphal, Tracy O’Conner, Missy Jenkins, Leslie Pearson and Jacqueline Caldwell.
Many artists in the exhibit addressed the issue of saving the environment. Alexandra Uccusic from Vienna sent an original drawing to illustrate stopping the exploitation of the seas. Katsura Okada from New York created a mixed-media collage addressing the problem of the way plastic kills sea life. Several local artists sent in beautifully crafted works about saving the environment: Susanna Davis, Rose-Ann San Martino, Nordea Hess, Manuela Smith and Martha Sisk.
Many national and regional artists addressed themes of empowerment and identity. Two high school students, Bryanna Rivera and Alyssa Mincey, addressed discrimination toward identity and how technology influences a sense of identity. Kyle Harding, a high school art teacher, also addressed the issue of technology’s influence on a student’s identity.
There are too many wonderful works within many themes and too many artists to mention them all in this short article. There will be plenty of time for visitors interested in seeing “STOP IT!” at Gallery 208, since the exhibit will remain up until mid-June 2019.
The public is invited to the opening reception of “STOP IT!” Tuesday, April 23, at Gallery 208, located at 208 Rowan St. The opening reception will be 5:30-7 p.m., and many of the local artists who participated in the exhibit will be there. The gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 910-484-6200.