Detroit visual artist, Victoria Shaheen has dedicated her artistic practice to unpacking what exactly this fascination with “kitsch” objects means for us as a society.
We all know the feeling — you’re mindlessly wandering through a yard sale or antique store when you see that one, tiny object that you absolutely must-have. It could be a pair of jolly gnome salt and pepper shakers, an endlessly waving maneki-neko, or a weathered-but-adorable Betty Boop figurine. Whatever it may be, that small object evokes a feeling of nostalgia and longing that convinces the consumer that we can’t live without it.
Shaheen, who received her Masters of Fine Art in Ceramics from Cranbrook Academy of Art, defines “kitsch” as any industrial-based, casted object that references pop culture or mass production. “I think a lot of it is nostalgia and this idea of sentimentality,” says Shaheen. “That’s kind of where it gets more uncomfortable for me because an object is telling me to feel sentimental about it, sometimes an object I’ve never seen before.”
She has long been fascinated with the relationship between kitsch and fine art. She explains the age-old division between the fine art world and the ceramic world, a hierarchy that places ceramic work at the bottom of the artistic totem pole.
Her series entitled Continental Breakfast with the Imperial Family, features petite glazed porcelain and foil vessels aim to challenge the artistic caste system by creating objects that have the same elements as kitsch — an accessible size, bright colors, and playful forms — but lack the cultural references. In doing so, Shaheen says she hopes to spark conversations about capitalism, objectification and society’s obsession with hierarchies.
Some of these pieces are self-described as “the cross between a Faberge egg – a prized 20th-century artifact made for Russian monarchs, valued at over $33 million — and a Cadbury egg — the gaudy chocolate easter egg filled with mystery creme.”
“It’s like the two extremes of the decorative arts world,” says Shaheen. “You could bite right into it or it could be this amazing artifact from this historic monarchy that represents so much in terms of capitalism and breaking that system down.”
Shaheen balances the heavy socio-political undertones of her work with the use of bright, pastel colors and neon lights. Her studio gives off the impression of an adult Candyland.
She believes that creating a blissful, airy environment can facilitate discussing topics that can be disturbing and, at times, anxiety producing. Her aim is to draw focus to the topics of capitalism, objectification and how the two can lead to the “objectifying of humans themselves.”
“In my opinion, all hierarchies need to go away. The idea of hierarchy just seems archaic and vicious and for no other purpose but dividing things. I love the idea that I can take these systems of value, whether they’re material, cultural or socio-political and kind of mix them all up and redefine things.”
Shaheen’s series, Continental Breakfast with the Imperial Family, will be exhibited in the niche windows of the David Klein Gallery curated by PLAYGROUND DETROIT starting May 1st through the summer, and will be followed up with an upcoming exhibition with George Vidas.
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