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‘Murica! at PhilaMOCA


[Patriotism comes in stripes and colors other than red, white, and blue–though that’s the prevalent palette at this America-themed group exhibition. Kelly dips into some works that simultaneously criticize and celebrate our country’s culture and customs. — the Artblog editors]

I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the month of our nation’s independence than to see ‘Murica! at PhilaMOCA. If, based on the title, you expect to see some tongue-in-cheek takes on patriotism, you won’t be disappointed. But you will also find some more serious takes on the theme to challenge your derisive thoughts.

The subversive

In the gallery, what immediately caught my eye were four flags and images of flags in other works. I was initially disappointed, hoping the artists would find something less obvious to submit to a show titled ‘Murica. But the art is not all surface-level.

One of the flags, in particular, looks like an existing flag the artist has found, hung in the gallery, and taken credit for. However, at closer inspection, this flag is embroidered in a benign but somewhat shocking way.

Thomas Kelly, “Stars & Crosses,” 48-star flag with quilting thread and white linen.

Over each star in his “Stars & Crosses,” Thomas Kelly has embroidered a cross that is invisible until inspected at a very close distance. This seemingly simple act obviously makes a strong statement about church and state. My mind spins with the significance of the crosses corresponding to each star/state, and the invisibility vs. permanence of the embroidery–each symbolizing a part of this ongoing discussion.

Sarah Damiano, “Evaporate”.

“Evaporate” by Sarah Damiano also reveals more than expected at first glance. Without the title, it is simply a delicately cut and mysteriously patterned vellum map of the United States. With the title, the viewer sees more… and begins to consider the environmental or political causes behind the pattern of droughts Damiano is showing us.

The openly critical

E. Sherman Hayman, “L’Amere-EEK,” mixed media on ragboard.

And, although expected, some of the openly critical works are just as captivating. E. Sherman Hayman’s “L’Amere-EEK” is a flag image made of sturdy board that is nevertheless falling apart and becoming tangled at the ends. Closer inspection reveals that what is “not right” with this flag is all of the ideas of America and politics that it contains. Each line contains a quote from a different source, and each quote questions our country’s ideals. The collection of quotes is captivating.

Steph Cayer, “Home” (2014), porcelain, metal, glass, and paper on wood panel.

“Home” by Steph Cayer is very accessible and forceful with its subject. Pharmaceuticals: they’re what’s for dinner. What is most intriguing is that the piece seems to be a critique of America’s pill-popping culture…but the prescription labels covering the place mat, name card, plate, etc. all contain the name of the artist. She is brave to show us her own prescriptions: something we are trained to be so private about. She is brave to highlight that she is a part of what she is critiquing.

Lazaro Creagh, “Bedside Service,” photograph.
Elizabeth Cunningham, “The Zipper,” photograph.

The everyday

Some of the art in the show has a less easily-read message. Both Elizabeth Cunningham’s “The Zipper”and Lazaro Creagh’s “Bedside Service” present the viewer with a feeling of being at home. The images of a summer pop-up carnival, and what I originally imagined to be a diner table crowded with empty plates, are snapshots in most Americans’ memories… largely overlooked but ingrained into our collective past experience.

Among the other works in this 34-person show, you will certainly find work that challenges different parts of who you are as an American, as well as work that makes you feel proud to be part of our culture. Challenging, un-demanding, large, small, in your face, and hard to read: this work is a diverse mélange, just like our country.


‘Murica! is on view at PhilaMOCA from July 2 – 29.