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Kelly Wahl’s “Vegan Taxidermy”
What if instead of staring at your blank walls while working from home, you could look into the eerie eyes of a taxidermied animal? You can, kind of, thanks to a new event from the DC Public Library. Taxidermy, the practice of preserving an animal’s body via mounting or stuffing, has come a long way from its beginnings. Ancient Egyptians pioneered embalming techniques, often burying cats, dogs, and oxen along with royalty. In the centuries since, artists have shifted to view taxidermy as a form of art, rather than simply a means of preservation. Modern-day practitioners tackle a much longer list of animals and work to emphasize realism in their finished products. But as animal enthusiasts and activists grow in number, a new wave is cresting in taxidermy. So-called “vegan taxidermy” or “faux taxidermy” aims to provide the same look and feel, but without the real animals. The tongue-in-cheek trend has created consumer interest in semi-realistic mounted heads, which allow individuals to pay homage to a lodge-decor staple while respecting animals. Washington, D.C., artist Kelly Wahl takes vegan taxidermy to the next level, using materials like paper, paint, and cardboard to create mounted heads with an out-of-the-box touch. Although a hunter is unlikely to find a giraffe with multiple gold ear piercings out in the wild, that crafty giraffe could find a home on your apartment walls. The event begins at 1 p.m. on Sept. 5. Registration is available at dclibrary.org. Free. —Sarah Smith
Among the many masterpieces in the National Museum of African Art’s exhibit I Am… is “Esther,” the first haute couture gown in the museum’s collection. The shimmering golden bodice illuminates war-torn scenes of diamond extraction, which are detailed along the skirt. The striking dichotomy unearths the “riches and potential of the African continent” and the exploitations it’s endured, historically and in the present. In the words of artist Patience Torlowei, “‘Esther’ is much more than a dress. She is a force.” This rings as true for the costume as for all of the works in the exhibit, which embraces a multitude of feminist narratives. I Am… draws upon a variety of artistic techniques, from video to pottery, to encapsulate its inclusive vision. In sculpture, Batoul S’Himi emblazoned an aluminum pressure cooker with a map of the world, wittily imprinting the globe onto a familiar emblem of the kitchen, the heart of the home and the (traditional) home of the woman. The fiery color reaffirms the urgent need to turn up the heat when it comes to women’s representation across our global systems. And on the subject of deserving—and demanding—to be seen, visual activist Zanele Muholi has spent the last decade photographing Black lesbians, working primarily in South Africa. Muholi’s arresting portrait of Pam Dlungwana, set against a backdrop of cool repetition, is simultaneously intimate and defiant, confident and piercing. The exhibition is available at africa.si.edu. Free. —Emma Francois