ExVoto Gallery is one of the newest additions to the ever-growing East Market Street arts community. Its founder and director, Shawna Khalily, describes the gallery as a collective featuring a handful of local artists. The gallery opened November of 2009 at 634 East market with an exhibition by Ms. Khalily.
An ExVoto is an offering or sacrifice made to the Gods and representing a request for grace or thanks for a divine gift. On the surface this seems to be an obviously religious concept and Khalily acknowledges this connotation by creating prints in the past of St. Sebastian and Judith and making references to stigmata. But the ex-voto, like Khalily’s current work refers to something beyond any particular religion or beyond religion itself.
The sacrifice, as philosopher George Bataille wrote, is the very origin of religion. It reflects a complicated yet open and giving relation to the world that marks us as human. That sense of the sacrifice runs through Khalily’s work. Each print illuminates a scene in which figures are encountering one another and coming to terms with loss and gain and mystery.
The work, “Water From The Sam Source” is a good example of this. The figures fall just short of being identical. The symbols and depictions hint at grief, of sex, of allegiance and devotion. The image is iconic like a tarot card or an alchemical engraving and it lies outside our ability an easy or straightforward emotional reading. (The title refers to a song by local band the Rachels and reflects Khalily’s multifaceted influences).
Khalily is able to give these works authority by using the human body as a metaphor while simultaneously displaying a working artist’s knowledge of her subject. “Figure drawing is my first priority,” she states in her artist’s statement and her main artistic influences come from artists who focused on drawing as well such as Kathe Kollwitz and Jim Dine.
Khalily’s art is full of these rewarding paradoxes. Her principle medium, the woodcut, involves a slow, almost methodical and labor-intensive process for each image yet the artist herself is energetic and seems overflowing with images from many sources. Further, woodcuts, like other prints are created in editions: each print is repeated until the source - the wood, in this case, deteriorates. Khalily the printmaker doesn’t create editions. Each print is unique like a painting or a drawing. After she pulls the print Khalily hand colors it with watercolor, acrylic, colored pencils or oil paint. She selects specific papers for each work like a Lotka paper, a beautiful cloth-like paper made from the bark of the Nepali Lotka bush. She frames the prints to highlight the singular quality; floating gently off dark wood, held up to the light like an offering.
Article by Terry Tapp