"Fire" Rises at Art Center Sarasota



The galleries at Art Center Sarasota are full to bursting with work from all across the state for this year’s Florida’s Finest juried exhibition. Receiving more than 400 submissions from Florida artists and displaying a record 260 throughout the four galleries, the exhibition offers a curated cross section of work being done in the increasingly active Florida scene. “We’re witnessing a blossoming of the visual arts in Florida,” says Florida’s Finest juror R. Lynn Whitelaw, the founding director and curator at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art. “This exhibition clearly demonstrates the variety of talents our state is home to.”

From photography to painting, collage to mixed media, the range of media on display rivals the geographical spread, with a strong showing from the sculptural arts, including a geometrically maddening contribution from Zach Gilliland and an alligator named Vinnie, crafted from palm fronds by David Skaggs. But it was Sarasota’s own Jana Millstone who came down with the top prize for a politically charged piece entitled Fire.

Created from acrylic on wood panel, the piece is one in an ongoing series Millstone calls Veil, focusing on women living under the domination of fundamentalist or oppressive regimes. The women of Fire, covered head to toe in seemingly religious garb, all face away from the viewer, as if fleeing, the central recessed figure further increasing the distance between audience and subject. Silkscreened over the top, an original poem by Millstone decries the cycles of fear and hate that suffocate and trap their victims. “They haunt me,” Millstone says of her continual subjects, simultaneously literal and totemic. “I can’t seem to shed myself of them.”

“Astounded” at winning the competition, Millstone admits to initial trepidation at sharing her work. “It could be misinterpreted as an indictment against religion,” she says, “but it’s not.” Though inspired by reading about atrocities committed by the Taliban, the indictment is of a general nature and condemnation of dogmas that would hold women down worldwide. The research side can be “miserable,” says Millstone. “But it’s something I can’t turn a blind eye to. It’s happening in our world now.”

Currently on display at Art Center Sarasota, Florida’s Finest runs through August 11.

Pictured: "Fire" by Jana Millstone. Image courtesy of Art Center Sarasota.

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