VCCA offers a wide range of sponsored fellowships. Some of these support artists from speci c areas of the country, while others are tailored to offer support to artists of speci c demographics or working in speci c media. The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, which, at VCCA, supports African American and Latino visual artists, is one of such opportunities.
Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, Jacques Gelman amassed a fortune in lm distribution and production in France and Mexico. He met and married his wife Natasha Zahalka from Czechoslovakia in Mexico. Unable to return to Europe because they were Jewish and the Second World War was raging, the Gelmans settled in Mexico City and became Mexican citizens. Jacques Gelman’s greatest success came from his lengthy professional relationship with the Mexican comedian Mario Moreno known as “Cantin as” whose lms he produced. This enabled the Gelmans to assemble what is regarded as one of the world’s most signi cant private holdings of 20th century art. Natasha Gelman continued collecting contemporary works after her husband’s death in 1986 until she died in 1998. The Gelman’s Mexican collection remains in Mexico, while their European works are on permanent display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Gelmans’ circle of friends included Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. In addition to their VCCA sponsored fellowship, the Gelman Foundation supports many initiatives that bene t emerging and under-recognized visual artists at any career stage.
The recipient of a Gelman Fellowship, visual artist Lisa Beane is based in Los Angeles. All spring, Lisa had been galvanized by the story of Farkhunda, the 27-year old Afghani woman who was brutally murdered by a mob on March 19 in Kabul. The incident occurred after Farkunda confronted a mullah selling charms outside the Shah-e-Doshamshera shrine. Farkunda was a devout woman and was o ended by what she saw as unseemly activity occurring so close to the holy site. It’s ironic that it was her very piety that was her undoing. Because the mullah became so enraged by Farkunda’s scolding that he turned around and accused her of burning a Koran. Word of this spread quickly through the crowd, which turned on Farkhunda savagely attacking her. In a frenzy, they beat, stoned and ran over her. Eventually, they threw what was left of her body “into a river and set it ablaze in the presence of policemen.”
Repelled by it all, Lisa also saw in the outcry here in the U.S. a form of hypocrisy, or at least convenient amnesia. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that we were doing much the same thing. Between the years 1877-1950 there were 3,959 lynchings in 12 Southern states according to an article in The New York Times. And it wasn’t limited to the South. The iconic photograph of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith surrounded by Saturday night revelers was taken in Indiana in 1930. In a heartbreaking aside, as Abram (on the right in the photograph) was being hanged he instinctively grabbed at the noose around his neck, so the men lowered him back down, broke his arms and then strung him back up again. Lisa wove together the narratives of these two events, depicting the martyred Farkunda and Abram with halos. Soulfully beautiful with a head covered by a hajib, Farkunda bears a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary. For Lisa, Farkunda is also a stand-in for women everywhere.
What trans xes the artist is the degree of hatred that propels people to behave in such a depraved way toward another human being. In these extreme cases, the hatred is so intense that the victim no longer has a human identity. One of the more disturbing qualities of the famous photograph of the Indiana lynching is the carnival atmosphere that’s captured. It’s hard to fathom people reacting in such a way and yet it continues as a recent
photograph from Pakistan reveals. In the forefront of this image two men and a boy are capering happily, big smiles grace their faces. It looks like an image from The Family of Man. But then you realize that the form being pulled behind them is the remains of one of the two men falsely accused of bombing a church in Lahore.
Despite their di cult subject matter, Lisa’s paintings are anything but bleak. She incorporates bold color, dynamic line, writing and familiar images from pop culture to create works that are deceptively light-hearted. This false joviality stands in such stark contrast to what’s being depicted that it succeeds in underscoring it. Depicting things in this fashion also allows Lisa to deal with things that are too hard to talk about or really show.
In her larger works, Lisa organizes her composition into broad elds of color interspersed with highly detailed passages and expressive brushstrokes. Lisa uses words in pithy colloquial sentences to drive home her point, and images from pop culture in ironic ways. So the Keebler elf’s tree becomes the gallows and the elf is transformed from jolly baker to evil instigator. The scrawl of words and splintered composition impart an edgy street vibe to Lisa’s work almost as if the paintings are an urban wall peppered with gra ti and the layered visual fragments of old handbills.
Photo: Sarah Sargent
In the original photograph of the Shipp/Smith lynching, there’s an older woman at the center looking out toward the viewer. Lisa has canonized her placing a halo on her head. Her speech bubble asks “Where he Momma at?” reminding everyone that this man hanging from the tree has a mother; he is a human being.
This was Lisa Beane’s rst residency experience. “I had no idea what to expect, and I must say it was beyond anything I could imagine. My work is extremely di cult; it is deep and emotional. To go in and face it each day is challenging and to be in this peaceful place that buzzed with phenomenal creative energy was an incredible gift. The support and friendship from other Fellows helped sustain me in this demanding work.”