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New WIU Art Exhibit Explores Violence in Our Culture

A new exhibit at the Western Illinois University Art gallery features images that might be most familiar from the news, including unmanned drones and Iraqi detainees.

Dominic Sansone uses theses images in his new show "It Shoots Further than We Dream" to explore the role of violence in our culture.

One of the most noticeable and striking pieces is titled "Brand New God."  It covers nearly half of the room, but the size is not what strikes you.

Artist Dominic Sansone


“It’s a group of 60 figures, they’re actually in a submissive pose," Sansone said.  "It’s a yoga position called child's pose. They are bowing before a gold leafed AK 47 which is the most widely distributed firearm in the world. It’s a piece about Americans in particular our sort of worship of violence."

Sansone said  the piece may have added impact given recent shootings but he didn't make the piece in response to the most recent tragedies.

“I actually started this work in the summer of 2010, and so it’s a piece that I worked on for quite a while and it was inspired by current events at that time.," Sansone said, "And I while I say, we talk about violence in our media, I do want make clear I don’t think that violence in the media is the cause of violence in actual society. I don’t believe that video games or movie or television shows lead to  violence. I think it just sort of numbs us a little more to the violence around us and it makes it more a casual every day event than it should it be.”

Another of Sansone’s pieces, "Sleeper Cell", features three contorted semi-human forms. They’re wearing gas masks and are lying in welded cages made of rebar. 

Sansone was scheduled to bring his exhibit to an art gallery in Kentucky next month, but he was asked not to  include that piece or “Brand New God.”

“In the case of "Brand New God" because of recent events in Connecticut and a shooting that occurred in Paducah in 1997, they have objected to the rifle image in there," Sansone explained.  "In the case of sleep cell they are concerned about the graphic nature of the video element which is on a screen that is 2 inches diagonally. And you have to get on tour hands and knees to look at it."

The “video element” includes pictures from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq which the gallery hosting the exhibit objected to. Instead of removing the two pieces from the exhibit, Sansone decided to cancel the show.

The way Sansone’s work references current events did not bother Mathew Pierz. He is a senior in graphic design at WIU.   He was also able to attend a workshop that Sansone put on for students demonstrating the techniques he used to create some of the pieces on display.

Pierz said he was struck by more than the craftsmanship of Sansone’s work
“Especially with the piece involving some odd dozen of the same figures  bowing towards a gilded replica of an AK47, that and the tree with what looked to be the melted UAV drones that a lot of people would identify, or at least students would identify from video games and things like that,"Pierz said. "It speaks a lot to the current events that are going on in the world right now which is actually kind of refreshing to see that. So, I like it.”

Charles Wright also attended the opening. Wright is chair of the Department of Art at WIU. He was not on the committee that scheduled Sansone’s exhibit but was impressed by the committee’s decision.  Wright said the piece Brand New God, featuring the replica AK47, was especially powerful given that he saw it just after the shootings at Sandyhook Elementary.

“So I think when I first saw the strength of that idea, of the powerful nature of what had happened there came through in these reclining figures on the ground," Wright said. He added that even though the piece does provoke a reaction, audiences are free to interpret the message on their own and could come to many different conclusions.

Wright also said despite the pieces subject matter, it isn't going anywhere.

I hesitate to talk about the controversy that it might have brought to another place," Wright said.  "We’re going to keep it. If we can keep it, we’re going to keep it here. Because I think it’s a strong work and I advise anybody who has not been to come out and see it.”

The exhibit “It Shoots Further than We Dream," remains on display through February 16th at the Western Illinois University art gallery.

Scott Stuntz is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.