‘Ban This’ Group Exhibit to Benefit ACLU Defense Fund to Open Sept. 22

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From the Maplewood Division of Arts & Culture:

The Division of Arts & Culture sat down with local artist and curator Sherry Beth Sacks to talk about her artistic practice, her activism, and her upcoming exhibition “Ban This: A Group Exhibition Benefitting the ACLU Defense Fund” which will open on Friday, September 22 at the 1978 Arts Center at 1978 Springfield Avenue. The opening reception on 9/22 will be from 6 – 9 PM and is open to the public. The exhibition will be on view through October 29, 2023 during weekend hours Sat/Sun 2-4 PM. Extended gallery hours will also be announced soon.

(Photo of Sherry Beth Sacks. Photo Credit: Anna Herbst)

DAC: You’ve organized several exhibitions in town over the years to great acclaim. What made you interested in organizing this one as a benefit for the ACLU Drag Defense Fund?

Sherry Beth Sacks: One of the benefits of having lived in South Orange for the past 15 years has been getting to know and admire local artists and their work. In response to the national wave of anti-LGBTQ+  legislation and Drag performers, I felt compelled to organize artists who might want to leverage their talent to fundraise for the ACLU Drag Defense Fund. It’s one way to address the outrage I’ve been feeling.

DAC: What would you like to highlight about any of the artists and artwork we will see once the show opens?

SBS: I’d like to highlight the generosity of this group of artists, who have offered their works in full support of the ACLU Drag Defense Fund. We don’t often have the time or energy to engage in things we care about, so I am inspired by their participation and am fueled by their work.

(A recent work by Sherry Sacks)

DAC: I hear there is a special surprise print being offered by the ACLU. Care to tell us about it?

SBS: Yes! The ACLU is offering a print for sale by the amazing Faith Ringgold. What an incredible addition to this show.

DAC: How can the artist community continue to engage with issues around Freedom of Expression and what do you want the public to know about how why this is so important?

SBS: Because of my background in art and activism I’ve found myself living at the intersection of these spaces working collaboratively with other artists. I have found that when creating in community rather than in isolation, there is potential for momentum and organizing to protect things like Freedom of Expression. Art making has the tendency to be quite lonely with a romantic focus on individualism that has never really resonated with me. It’s so important that our humanity is protected as creative people and the ways that we all choose to express ourselves.

(Photo of Stephanie Penn in her studio. Photo credit: Sherry Sacks)

DAC: As someone who has connected artists locally for years, what can we do in Maplewood and South Orange to improve the way our townships engage, support, and promote the tremendous talent pool of visual artists living and working in our community?

SBS: I’d love to see both towns have stronger structural mechanisms to hold the amount of creative visual makers living in SOMA. There’s certainly a gaping hole where the art leadership and Pierro Gallery once was in South Orange. We’re missing a great chance to capture the visual art as it exists now and the opportunity to be a regional hub. Something like DIA SOMA would be a dream, right?

DAC: Who do you draw inspiration from as an artist?

SBS: I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies who was a self taught experimental pioneer whose work was rooted in the social issues of his time. Eve Hesse has also been an important source of inspiration for me. Living only a short time, she managed to emerge from hardship to create groundbreaking work that was truly her own. I mean, both of these artists represent the full expression of self that has given me permission to make art when I’ve doubted myself and the artistic path.

DAC: What are your favorite places to see art? Why?

SBS: My favorite place to see art is the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona. Located on the top of Montjuïc, it creates an open space to absorb art while having a perspective of the city itself. I love to wander on the rooftop of that building.


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