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Exhibition confronts issues of sexual violence

(Published February 22, 1999)

By LARRY RODMAN

Arts Correspondent

The Center of Collaborative Art and Visual Education (CAVE) is an anomaly in the Dupont Circle area: an arts collective with a name that suggests an aesthetic think-tank. It essentially exists through sheer group will — functioning democratically, mounting dynamic visual arts exhibitions and hosting life-drawing sessions. Considering CAVE’s marginal budget, the center is fortunate to be located three flights up from Connecticut Avenue in a polished gallery suite; hard evidence that artistic ambition is not necessarily limited to those with adequate funding.

It wouldn’t be uncommon for such a group to define itself in opposition to the "arts establishment," but CAVE has other priorities. "We’re close in to a number of galleries, but (we) work from a different standpoint," Rob Bradfield says about CAVE. "The sales thing is not first and foremost. There is a price list, but it’s never there with the work on the wall. We just don’t have that focal point."

Further, he said, "we don’t think (that art, in general) should just be for decoration, though I’m glad for the arts being promoted in any way." In communities where cultural discourse suffers from neglect, educators must take it upon themselves to foster art appreciation. More than that, CAVE’s emphasis is on the positive values that can be communicated through artistic media.

The upcoming exhibition at CAVE will be a show in collaboration with the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, a "joint effort...representing a wide variety of artists views on the causes and effects of sexual violence on the individual and society," as stated in the collective’s announcement. The arts offer a channel for personal inquiries into public concerns or events. In recent weeks, for example, a ubiquitous, disturbing flier has been posted throughout the neighborhood, concerning a missing young woman last seen around there. In the face of this sort of wrenching outrage, certain artists feel compelled to delve beyond superficialities, and are — in conscience — unwilling to tolerate any denial of the dark side of life. "Art should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," to quote political columnist Ted Rall.

Bradfield said the idea for the exhibition came about through an encounter with a representative of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center. "They basically wanted to raise the awareness of sexual violence as a problem within the United States and all over the world. We thought a great way to do that would be to cover the community as much as possible when looking for artists, to get their different views on what they thought (to be some aspects of the issue)." The artworks might, for instance, range from studies of the emotional consequences of violence, explorations of the sensationalistic mass media’s effects on men and women, or the psychological disruptions of sexual harassment.

The show was still in the selection process as this column went to press. The outcome is certain to be extraordinarily powerful, featuring a broad assortment of film, installation pieces, painting, photography and printmaking. It ‘s important to anchor potentially alarming pieces in a context that will assist in catharsis or understanding. The CAVE selection committee insisted on receiving artists’ statements along with the submissions, to assist in making the work as informative and accessible as possible.

The gallery itself, at 1635 Connecticut Ave. NW, is likely to act as a buffer zone, an environment where viewers will be able to comfortably interact with the impassioned imagery. "(We) thought this would be a good thing for the gallery to take on," Bradfield said. CAVE hopes to provide a forum for the kind of "straightforward verbal discussion" that will feel less stark than in some other setting.

The show opens March 5 and continues through March 26. Related events are in the planning stage — among them, a poetry reading on March 24. Call 202-483-4655 for more information.

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The Common Denominator wants to know about your artistic or cultural events and projects in the District. Information may be mailed to 680 Rhode Island Ave. NE, Suite N, Washington, D.C. 20002; faxed to (202) 635-1449; or e-mailed to NewsDC@aol.com.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator