Aside from the merit of their paintings, the tragically brief lifespans of Van Gogh and Kahlo exercise a strong emotional pull, as anyone who has read the books or seen the biopics can attest. They're holy martyrs, the king and queen of pain, and prophets killed by the philistines for their saintly, painterly faith. While it's enjoyable to revere doomed heroes, the cult of victimhood, which confers an easy illusion of moral superiority, makes for bad aesthetics: it blurs critical judgment and condescends, backhandedly, to the artists — as if who and what they were mattered more than what they felt, thought, and expressed. It also ignores artists' ability to assimilate and transform reality, even in its darker aspects, through creative work and serious play. As people, the artists may engage our sympathies; as creators, they need no handicapping.
Nor does Aunia Kahn, a prolific multimedia artist who explores "love, anger, betrayal and the scores [of emotions] in-between" with Kahlovian intensity in her series Our Quiet Earthquake, now at Eclectix Gallery. These thirteen photographic giclées examine the now-familiar issues of female identity in a male-dominated culture, as Cindy Sherman's faux stills from nonexistent movies did in the late 1970s. But Kahn, who likewise directs and stars in her photos, coiffed, made-up, and posed to perfection, adds visual pizzazz and emotion to what could in lesser hands be sociology lessons. Her images combine the punch of editorial cartooning; the perfection of 1940s glamour photography, airbrushed and hand-tinted to a fare-thee-well; and a bit of creepy noir/Goth decadence and style. In "Stationary Fixation," Kahn, wearing a flowing white dress, reposes in water, eyes open and arms crossed on her breast, a hybridization of vampire chick (note crimson lipstick) and drowned Ophelia. In "Faded This Time," the Elvira figure lies in a pose of Munchian erotic abandon, again in water, but now with a drop of blood on her lips. In "Majestic Muse," she stands before us, masked, in ball gown and cape, but her long hair stands out from her head like electroshocked black tentacles. Other characters, all Kahn in various guises, and not all femmes fatales by any means, also appear and enact their stories, with the funny and the strange in perfect balance. Dark matter treated with lightness and wit can yield serious fun. Through August 31 at Eclectix (7523 Fairmount Ave., El Cerrito). EclectixGallery.com or 510-364-7261.
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