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It’s just as well for Jesse Helms that Renée Stout practices art, not magic. At David Adamson Gallery, Stout has placed a voodoo curse on Helms in one of the 20 sculptures and prints in her current show. “Your penis is a rooster that crows only at night,” runs the poem by Ernesto Mercer, a friend of Stout’s. “Your tongue is black parchment floating in four thieves vinegar…”
Stout didn’t cop all of Mercer’s images in Hoo Doo’d (to Jesse Helms), but she’s got the heart bristling with rusty nails, the teeth (“forsaken gravestones”), and the rooster penis, made of stuffed muslin. “I stuffed some pepper in the balls,” confides Stout, inspired by Haitian voodoo.
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Stout, a modest, friendly woman fascinated by “power objects”among them women’s shoes and gunsis not the severe character you might expect from her art. Before she moved into her studio at North Capitol and O Streets NW four years ago, her collagist sculptures were quieter, more like the “melancholy little worlds” of Joseph Cornell. Then she started getting to know her neighbors on a block where teenagers routinely kill each other. To Stout, it seems as if the city’s overlords are sublimely indifferent. As her work suggests, it’s driving her nuts.
“Please protect the children of O Street,” reads the prayer on the cracked sign board of a work called La Petición. A grinning skull with a cross on its forehead is the Ghede, the Haitian guardian of both cemeteries and children’s welfare, painted beneath a row of jester’s caps in gay colors.
Several other pieces were inspired by storefront churches in Stout’s neighborhood, like the Soul Servicing Center #3, down a few doors from her studio. The small churches captivate Stout, she says: “You know it has to be all about spirit, because what else is there?”
“Over 144,000 saved,” reads the sign on one of the pieces. “Come on in, no sufferin here,” says another. Within the worship space, Jesus has been removed from the cross.Carolyn Weaver