Over the years there have been many different artist features on the walls of the Alexander Gallery, but the most recent art featured may be the first that had to be suspended from the galleries ceiling.
On Our Watch is an art showcase by Melanie Stevens, a teacher at Pacific Northwest College of Art and the artist and writer behind the graphic novel series Watershed. The exhibition features the large art installation, “If you’re watching this it’s too late.” A massive tapestry of fabric with unique screen printed art, sewn together by hand into one long piece that hangs over the gallery floor.
It features prints and images that represent important and difficult times in our country mixed with meme and internet culture, creating a juxtaposition between harsh realities and comedic undertones. Taking a closer look at the fabric will reveal grim reminders of all too recent moments in our society.
“It’s inspired by different happenings in the news as well as popular culture, social events, kind of watershed events that were happening at the time,” Stevens said. “It kind of functions as a call and response to each of these events and it has been through five different iterations where I add a new series of prints to the work, so each section kind of represents a different moments in time.”
Examining different sections of the piece will reveal anything from comical cartoons, rendition of scenes from popular movies like “Black Panther,” and even images ripped straight from the news, all displaying Stevens tongue in cheek view of often traumatizing events and shameful times in our countries past.
Stevens not only devotes her time to her art but also does a significant amount of outreach to help others with theirs. She found and runs The Miss Anthology organization that was started out of Stevens and cofounder Emily Lewis’ frustration with how the comics industry handled different demographics. The organization hosts free workshops for female and LGBTQIA+ kids and teens to teach them how to write and produce comics; they then produce a yearly anthology with some of their work.
She also supports artists through The Nat Turner project, which helps support, fund, find spaces and exhibition opportunities for artists of color. Stevens is also apart of the recent launch of The Drinking Gourd Fellowship, which also helps to supports artist of color in the Portland area.
With all the work she does for other artists, it’s a wonder Stevens even has to time to hand stitch each section of the now 130 foot long piece. But according to Stevens she enjoys every second of it. “It will always be hand sewing for me, which is very tedious and it does look very rough and unpolished, but there’s also something very meditative for me in putting these pieces together in this way.”
This drive and commitment to her work inspires more than just her students. Clackamas Community College student Kinsey Rasch said, “It’s interesting to see an exhibit come here that isn’t a bunch of things hung around the room. It’s like one huge piece and that’s cool to see.”
Another viewer John Simmons was similarly impressed with the scale of the piece. “It’s fairly large scale and I think the process of how its created is interesting, and also its message,” Simmons said.
On Our Watch remains open to the public until April 26 in Niemeyer Center’s Alexander Gallery. After that, “If you’re watching this it’s too late” will move on to its next gallery space. So anyone interested in this large unique look at society will still have time to get a close and personal look.
Those who may be interested in learning more about Melanie Stevens, Watershed or any of her other projects can check out melaniestevensart.com, or by visiting the Nat Turner Project and Miss Anthology Facebook pages for info on upcoming opportunities.