Department store windows — in major metropolitan areas and even smaller towns — often charm passersby with their vibrant displays touting the next must-have jacket, glittering accessories or haute fragrance.
East Window — a NoBo micro-gallery with a rotating selection of artists’ work — aims to offer pedestrians deeper content.
“I’ve always been excited by spaces where we don’t expect to experience art,” said artist Todd Edward Herman, who opened the gallery at 4949 Broadway Unit 102-B, in May 2020. “Spaces that surprise us, confront us and potentially steer us out of the usualness of our daily routines, if even for a moment.”
Designed to be viewed from the exterior, the miniature gallery is also very fitting for a post-COVID world, allowing work by a number of diverse creatives to be showcased in a socially distanced way.
“There’s such a varied history of these spaces,” Herman said. “From private street-side windows, where passersby are uncertain if what they are seeing is a personal reliquary or a public installation, to public storefronts, billboards, peepholes, rural projectionists and open-air cinemas. East Window is an extension of these histories.”
Delivering stop-you-in-your tracks collections that conjure reflection, works in the window is often rooted in calling attention to a bigger issue — whether that be discrimination, sexism or social injustice.
Previous shows that have resided behind the glass pane aim to amplify stories that sometimes fall under the radar.
Currently, folks can take in the moving work of Boulder County photographer Dona Laurita with her third installment of “The Silhouette Project” — a documentary-style photographic exploration of the human condition.
Her latest work takes a look at youth dealing with disease.
“Like the other ‘Silhouette Projects’ I’ve created, the content can be challenging,” Laurita said. “Viewers may shy away from harrowing stories of the lives of immigrants, refugees, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and terminal cancer diagnosis in the AYA (adolescents and young adult) communities.”
Laurita likes the intimacy that East Window offers, a further complement to her commanding work.
“Having my work displayed at a venue like East Window gives viewers the opportunity to anonymously connect with a horrific reality that exists — hardship, pain, suffering, and yes, death,” Laurita said.
In addition to capturing these shadow-like images, Laurita has paired a journalistic aspect with each photograph by interviewing her subjects and pasting their words underneath the image.
“Ironically, the very premise of my project — speaking with participants anonymously in a silhouetted form — also allows those that view the exhibit at East Window a sense of anonymity as well,” Laurita said.
Whether out for an evening stroll or running a nearby errand, folks have the opportunity to stop for a moment, pause and take in the powerful work of Laurita that will be on display through Jan. 28.
“Having access to the project fully and not having anyone to interrupt, is a bit of a gift of individually having the opportunity to let the project speak to the viewer,” Laurita said. “I quite like it. My best work is when I am not tethered to it and it has a life of its own in the world. I think East Window provides a stepping stone in that direction.”
For Laurita, her latest subject matter is deeply personal.
“The Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) cancer community is extremely underrepresented,” Laurita said. “Sadly, this is something that hits very close to home and despite the pain, I have to do it. Tragically in 2017 — just a year after I began the ‘Silhouette Project’ as a local platform for immigrants, refugees and dreamers to have a voice while still respecting their anonymity — my 17-year-old daughter, Julietta, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Her life changed overnight.”
At age 19, Julietta passed.
“I do want to continue this project, but in time,” Laurita said. “I’m so filled with my own paralyzing grief from losing my daughter to cancer that I have to step out of the cancer trenches right now. I’ll return. Because it is needed. Stories matter. We have to share what we’ve been through in a safe and often anonymous way. This is so close to my heart and, despite the pain, I have to do it. It’s emotionally difficult. Right now in my grief it is not sustainable. My focus is also on how my daughter lived — music, art, theatre, dance — not how she died.”
While Laurita’s work can be seen in this lit window, it is also windows that have surfaced in another recent project of hers.
At her gallery, within the Eldorado Springs Art Center, Laurita has an exhibit “The Thin Veil Between Life and Death.”
“I used windows with small portals that served as a placeholder echoing the time spent gazing out after losing my beloved daughter,” Laurita said. “I printed images that I captured from that point of reference onto the thin veil of silk that has an ethereal quality of air…the thinnest substrate I could find that can hold something to allow me to still feel connected to someone I love so much, my child, that died at age 19.”
Laurita has also incorporated an interactive element into the work that she hopes will offer some comfort to visitors who are perhaps also grieving and dealing with tragedy.
“Because death touches all of us, alongside this project, I include an analog typewriter inviting others to type words to people they love that have died,” Laurita said. “Their words to their loved ones become part of the exhibit.”
For the next installment of “The Silhouette Project,” Laurita hopes to possibly switch her focus to spotlight community members who have been impacted by the Marshall Fires.
A different view
East Window has expanded with another locale.
Through a successful crowdfunding campaign, Herman was able to revamp a neighboring space that he is operating under the moniker East Window South.
“Because of the support of our amazing community, we’ve recouped almost everything we put into renovations,” Herman said.
The 500-square-foot gallery — around the corner from East Window — is located at 4949 Broadway Unit 102-C in Boulder.
“I’d been looking for an indoor exhibit space for quite a while,” Herman said. “The intimacy and interiority of South is the perfect complement to the public nature of the original East Window. South can handle imagery and content that might not be fitting for a more openly public format.”
The gallery’s opening show “African-America: Contempt of Greasy Pigs,” by Texas-based artist André Ramos-Woodard, opens Thursday with a reception from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
“Ramos-Woodard — a powerful, lyrical and incisive visual artist — takes a head-on look at what it means to be a Black, queer and non-binary person living in America today,” Herman said. “I’m honored that André will be exhibiting at East Window South.”
Through his photographs, that are often layered with text or imagery in Photoshop, Ramos-Woodard nabs the attention of onlookers. The captivating imagery of his pieces carry much weight. With themes ranging from systemic racism to police brutality, his layered work makes a gripping statement hard to ignore.
“This is my first time showing a lot of the work in the show, so it’ll be cool to see how people respond to it,” Ramos-Woodard said. “Plus, it’s always such a huge privilege to be able to show work in a space where you don’t reside. Most of all, though, I’m excited to work with Todd Herman, to be honest. He goes out of his way to amplify the work of underrepresented artists from diverse backgrounds and ones with really pertinent narratives. I’m so honored to be working with him at the new gallery. It’s such a breathtaking physical space.”
In addition to the 15 photographs, Ramos-Woodard has incorporated a film into the riveting collection.
“It’s a pretty haunting video, in my opinion,” Ramos-Woodard said. “It’s a performance piece that I created at the beginning of quarantine in 2020, and it’s a direct response to the death of Ahmaud Arbery — (R.I.P.) — who was lynched in the streets by racist white men not even two years ago. I don’t want to say too much about the piece so I don’t ruin it for those that would like to experience it in person, but the film is direct, impetuous, eerie and real.”
Ramos-Woodard’s inclination to create art surfaced at a young age.
“Oh man, as soon as I discovered drawing was a thing, I knew I wanted to do something involving art,” Ramos-Woodard said. “When I was a kid I was always drawing stuff — mostly ‘Dragon Ball Z’ characters — but occasionally I would add a Pokémon or two, amongst various other kids’ anime characters. When I got a bit older, I imagined that I would be a graphic designer or something since I had minor obsessions with illustration and digital technology. It wasn’t until high school that I ended up taking my first photography class and that’s when I really decided that I wanted to be an artist.”
Ramos-Woodard’s exhibit can be visited at East Window South by making an appointment online.
“As a person whose identity fits into various marginalized communities, I know how important it is to see other people like myself speaking their truth,” Ramos-Woodard said. “I really hope that my work speaks to the people who can understand my struggle. I’d like for them to know that their feelings, thoughts and opinions are nothing less than valid at all times. But for those that can’t understand it, I’d want them to know that they can at the very least learn from an experience that isn’t their own. If we aren’t learning from each other, how are we going to exist and prosper?”
In April, Herman will be curating a group show titled “Unhealthy Practices: A Show of Disgust” at East Window South.
“In this exhibit, we’ll see works by artists and non-artists, grappling with violated physical and social borders and hierarchies — the violation of gender boundaries and fluidity, notions of contagion, wellness, disease and how such constructs may be used to ostracize unwanted members of various social groups,” Herman said.
That show is scheduled to run into June.
“An important aspect of our group exhibits is that they level the playing field for established artists as well as people who do not identify as artists, to exhibit side by side, strengthening the East Window community,” Herman said.
Previously, Herman organized collage-making classes and movie nights and hopes to continue to bring these sort of offerings into this year.
“In addition to continuing to offer on and off-site screenings, readings and workshops, in 2022, East Window plans to establish more partnerships with institutions that are in alignment with our mission,” Herman said.
The arts nonprofit has partnered with CU Boulder’s Department of Art and Art History to bring a short film series by Southeast Asian artists to Museum of Boulder this February through March.
“East Window and South have been rewarding on so many levels,” Herman said. “Our low overhead has allowed us to create exhibit opportunities for artists whose work is focused on content that might not lead with concerns of commercial viability. This will continue to be a thrust of both the window and the gallery.”
Windows allow light to illuminate dark spaces and when cracked, can welcome in a waft of refreshing air. Herman’s two art spaces metaphorically do the same, delivering energizing work and an ever-changing view.
“It’s been so rewarding to see how East Window is slowly becoming a bit of a hub at the outskirts of Boulder — a space for artists to begin conversations about their work and to forge lasting relationships with other artists and communities along the Front Range and beyond,” Herman said.