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In the galleries: A painful, political take on the art of cruel shoes

Silvia Levenson’s “Cinderella” glass slipper departs from the happily-ever-after message with a nail that would impale the wearer’s heel. (RoFa Gallery)
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Celebrated in fairy tales as ancient as “Cinderella” and as modern as “Sex and the City,” dressy women’s shoes are meant to exemplify feminine glamour and allure. But attracting Prince Charming can turn out to be a pain, as a set of Silvia Levenson’s creations in RoFa Gallery’s current show sharply acknowledge: Each of her glass slippers is outfitted with a nail that would impale the heel of any would-be princess.

Footwear features in the work of only two of the seven artists in “Uncomfortable Shoes: The Politics of Being a Woman.” But most of the art draws from the domestic sphere, and all is political. Curator Gabriela Rosso, who has organized shows at George Mason University and moved her operation into her home because of the pandemic, is a Venezuela native who specializes in art from Latin America. The contributors to this show are all rooted there, although five of them now live in Europe or the United States.

The other cobbler is Annette Turrillo, whose photos show a circle of women’s shoes arrayed around a single pair of men’s. In one picture the shoes point inward, while in the other they point outward, as if ready to stride away from male control. Turrillo also works with fabric, into which she sews the partial forms of dresses from the 1950s, which she sees as the decade women’s liberation began.

The violence in Levenson’s tidy glass pieces, which also contain razor blades and tufts of sharp wire, is latent. The threat is more immediate in Manuela Viera Gallo’s jagged necklaces, made of broken crockery and other trashed household objects. Born in Italy to Chilean political refugees, Viera Gallo may also be thinking of homes broken by exile.

Priscilla Monge obliterates brutality against women by scribbling with pencil over Polaroids of sites of misogynist horrors. All that remains is a scrawled caption that tersely reveals what happened at the unseeable place. Performance artist Regina Jose Galindo connects such crimes with larger political infamies in her native Guatemala. The show includes a condensed video of a performance she staged in Berlin, where 28 women stood all day under dark shrouds. According to the artist, 28 is the number of women who disappear every month in her country. This somber performance, even when abbreviated to just nine minutes, should make spectators profoundly uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable Shoes: The Politics of Being a Woman Through April 30 at RoFa Gallery, 10008 Henswell Lane, Potomac. Open by appointment.

Fleeting, Fled

At the center of “Baltimore Self Portrait,” Ruth Lozner’s assemblage of junk and memories, is a vintage clock that lacks hour and minute hands but whose second hand circles resolutely. The partial but steadfast timepiece ticks one theme of “Fleeting, Fled,” a Washington Sculptors Group exhibition that occupies two galleries and a few outdoor sites at Glen Echo Park. “Time moves more slowly while under the stress and anxiety of quarantine,” curator Laura Roulet writes of the show, which had been postponed because of the pandemic.

Regular visitors to local arts venues will recognize the styles, media and concerns of many of the nearly three dozen contributors. The artists often employ found objects, frequently scavenged from nature and reimagined with a playful eye. Craggy vines mock geometrical precision in Gil Narro Garcia’s rounded but hardly spherical “Nature Sphere,” and branches represent humans in Sharon Pierce McCullough’s “The Travelers,” a parade of brightly painted figures. Emily Hoxworth Hager assembles frog, bat and bird bones into a jaunty little creature outfitted with hat and staff.

Sometimes natural and manufactured articles mingle. Marc Robarge hangs glass-and-ceramic seed pods from actual wooden branches; Katie Dell Kaufman launches a ship-shaped combine that’s mostly wood but has a scythe blade for a sail; and Paul Steinkoenig juxtaposes wooden pillars with bronze ones whose green patina provides a vegetal vibe.

Bronze and other customary sculpture materials are rare in this selection, which includes several examples of soft stuff that impersonates stone. Artemis Herber shapes and paints crumpled cardboard to emulate a volcanic artifact, while Pat Alexander places two eye-fooling fabric boulders within a cage made of genuine steel. Other pieces stretch the very idea of sculpture: Outside Adventure Theater, Ira Tattelman hangs an aquatic-hued banner that’s essentially an abstract painting, while within the Stone Tower Gallery, Steve Wanna defines the space not with physical items, but with oscillating hums.

More concretely, man-made things speak to environmental crises in works by Lisa Rosenstein and Susan Hostetler. Rosenstein stitched shredded plastic newspaper bags into a diaphanous curtain; Hostetler sent a flock of her trademark avian sculptures, usually wall-mounted in flight-like patterns, crashing to the floor. “Bird Pile III” suggests that time is running out.

Fleeting, Fled Through May 2 at Popcorn and Stone Tower galleries and environs, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo.

Jessica Maria Hopkins

In most of the seven self-portraits at Connersmith, Jessica Maria Hopkins gazes directly, and solemnly, at the viewer. What does her expression denote? The show’s title says it’s “Determination,” which is echoed by the titles of the two earliest pictures, from 2012. But the mixed-media pictures convey fragility as well as strength.

“Each figure I paint narrates my growth as a woman of color,” Hopkins’s statement notes. That maturation included treatment for cancer, which affected the D.C. native’s art as well as her flesh. The experience “motivated me to view myself as artistic medium,” she writes. “My body has been primed, stretched, cut and painted. My blood is paint, the brush is the needle and my body is the canvas.”

Mutability is a central theme of these paintings, which show a body that melds with the visual language of abstraction. Drips, ballpoint-pen scribbles, bars of unmixed color and even a simulated wood-grain background appear to merge with Hopkins’s form, as if to indicate an unsure sense of self. Yet her face looks indomitable, whether rendered in black and white — suggesting a photographic view — or assertive primary colors. The dynamic contrasts give these paintings, despite being touched by pain, a triumphant vitality.

Jessica Maria Hopkins: Determination Through April 30 at Connersmith, 1013 O St.

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