This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Libby O’Daniel at the artist talk for her exhibit In Other Words. The exhibit, which is only up at Artspace through Saturday, March 31st, was inspired by Libby’s personal journey to understand her own gender identity. Libby grew up struggling to find her identity in femininity, and currently finds peace existing “somewhere between masculine and feminine”.
As any good artist does, Libby has taken her struggles and experiences and put them into her art, so that we can learn from one another. This series of paintings allows the audience to have an up close and personal view into the emotions, both positive and negative, of other individuals who don’t identify with traditional gender roles. Her ability to bring life into the eyes of her paintings is a great asset to this end. Libby’s skill in eliciting an emotional connection through portraiture isn’t all that this series has to offer.
Libby thought long and hard about how to engage the general audience with the discussion over gender identity. What she came up with was brilliant. As you stare into the eyes of her subjects, you also get the chance to hear their actual stories. Libby conducted interviews with everyone she painted. The audio is playing through headphones stationed at each painting.
This style of communication is beautiful in its ability to purify the flow of information and experience. Observers have no ability to interrupt or redirect the “conversation”. Even though it is an interview, it does still have the feel of a conversation because of the realism Libby brings into the pieces. Unlike most personal conversations, here you have no choice but to let the other person finish.
In Other Words helped solidify in my mind the importance of actually taking the time to listen as others speak. We could all be better at seeing our neighbors as uniquely human, with their own thoughts and emotions. As we grow together we shouldn’t merely wait for our turn to speak but instead should trust that each person has a valuable perspective on their existence.
I left this art exhibit with a greater appreciation and understanding of the people in my own community that experience this world differently than I do. I think that Libby’s work has the potential to break down barriers in our society and build relationships through the combinative power of story telling and visual art.
If you can make it over to Artspace on Davie St. in downtown Raleigh before it comes down this weekend, I highly recommend it. If not, don’t worry because this is an ongoing body of work and Libby has plans to open the exhibit up to the public again in the future.
Feature Image: “Mehlynn”