Penn College examines ‘criminal traditions’ through art gallery

WILLIAMSPORT – The pain of “criminal traditions” across the world are on display at the Pennsylvania College of Technology Art Gallery.

“Criminal traditions are ancient, ongoing rituals still practiced today that kill or maim millions of people each year, yet aren’t considered crimes,” said Cheryl Jefferson, executive producer of the exhibition. “Because they are extraordinarily difficult topics, we use fine art to address them. And by using very aesthetic, beautiful imagery and pieces, we create a gateway for people to start thinking about these topics.”

The Chicago-based exhibition is comprised of about 20 artists from around the world and has traveled to at least eight colleges so far, according to curator Charles Gniech.

Criminal traditions are acts, such as child marriage, honor killings, female genital mutilation and other violence that still are implemented throughout the world, including the United States, Jefferson said.

She said the pieces on display are subjective and are meant to start a conversation about human rights issues and social change.

“The place where change occurs is in that moment of intimacy between you and that piece of art,” she said, urging the public to look at the art in person instead of simply on an electronic device.

Gniech said the pieces he finds often are not painted specifically for the exhibit but find a place because of the subjective nature of the material.

“I look at them and see something that is going to touch or speak to one of those traditions,” Gniech said.

One three-piece series in the exhibition highlights the struggle of women in a male-dominated culture where education and freedom are rare. Artist Richard Laurent said his motivation for the series came from regions of the Middle East and cultural upheavals like the Arab Spring.

“It’s not dark and forbidding. I didn’t want to talk about the subject in that sense. I wanted the painting to be inviting initially, and then all of these questions would be asked by the viewer,” Laurent said.

The artist used a similar subject in each of his paintings, employing what he said is a surrealist style of painting. The woman is Middle Eastern and confined by the strict traditionalism of her society, portrayed as the sphinx stone statue in Egypt or part of the Tower of Babel.

Laurent said he enjoys inviting the public to see and interpret his paintings. He often finds that even though they may approach with timidity at first, they often realize something they hadn’t thought of before.

“I’ve opened a door for somebody and I’ve enlightened them in some small way,” Laurent said.

The Art of Influence exhibition will be at the Penn College gallery until Feb. 28. Contact the gallery for show times.

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