American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center announces Make You Love Me, Polymorphous Dolls by Melissa Ichiuji

For Immediate Release:
November 12 – December 18, 2016


On November 12, 2016, Melissa Ichiuji will unveil her latest bevy of performative sculptures at American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center.  Melissa Ichiuji: Make You Love Me presents stunningly confident, bold, aggressive, playful, and original doll like figures full of sexual puns and allusions to larger traditions of Surrealist and contemporary works. Her work is exhibited regularly alongside artists such as Hans Bellmer, Louise Bourgeois, Pierre Molinier and Cindy Sherman.

In addition to the provocative, hand stitched, soft sculptures she is known for, Ichiuji’s recent interest in Objects of Worship are evident in several premiere works including a 12 foot welded steel “goddess” and an army of Petit Oracles.

For Ichiuji, the Petit Oracles are guardians of desires. These prayer idols personify interactive power. Each doll is unique. The head, arms and legs are in ceramic. The body is made of vintage fabrics (handed down from family matriarchs) and zippered stomachs filled with ceramic eggs. These power figures are infused with feminine wisdom. The materials are “alive” with history, making them literally charged with ancestral spirit and power.

The dolls are placed in individual wooden boxes lined with exquisitely sensual, pink fur. The boxes have a handle and a lock. The owner seeks advice from these spiritual effigies by blindly choosing a ceramic egg in the zippered belly. The answers are given by the color of the egg, red or green, indicating yes / no / stop / go. According to Melissa Ichiuji, this meditative exercise enables the owner to focus on his inner-truth and connect with divine feminine wisdom. The oracle refers to the Book of Change or I Ching in Chinese, with answers limited to “yes” and “no”. Each has a backpack, an ultimate hiding place and repository of secrets, dreams and prayers.

Petit Oracles, 2016

“Dolls have long functioned as playthings, magical dream keepers, and spiritual intermediaries”, says Ichiuji.  “In our volatile world it’s easy to feel impotent. A Petit Oracle is a personal power figure that playfully invites its owner to discover their center of truth. As a symbolic witness, it is a messenger to the gods and agent of change”

The steel sculpture contrasts with the soft skin quality of the pieces made out of textiles. The Goddess of the Burning House is a towering, “Kaliesque” guardian figure. Fitted with six arms and three heads, the statue perceives the past, present and future, symbolizing omnipresence.

This exhibition was suggested by Alice Denney, who has been responsible for most of the events and institutions that have made Washington artistically viable, including the Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington Project for the Arts, Pop Festival, Now Festival, Punk Festival, and dance, theater, music, and happenings too numerous to list here.

Alice has inspired several generations of artists, including Melissa Ichiuji, who was just a baby when she began accompanying her mother, one of Alice’s closest friends, to happenings and exhibitions throughout DC. Melissa has since grown to be an internationally recognized artist in her own right, cutting across genres of dance, theater, art, craft, and performance, and offering boldly sensual content in a still buttoned down city.

Ichiuji’s cultural heritage is rooted in the southern traditions of the American Appalachian Mountains. Her sixth great grandfather was Daniel Boone, the famous frontiersman and one the first folk heroes of the United States. Appalachian culture is steeped in supernatural folklore and its people have a special fondness for things eccentric and bizarre.

Us and Eternity, 2016

She started making small figures when she was six years old after a house fire left her family homeless and mother severely depressed. She refused to go to school, not wanting to leave her mother alone. When her mother returned to working full time, Ichiuji missed her and started taking her nylon stockings and other family members personal items to incorporate into dolls. These bits of clothing and artifacts that belonged to her loved ones were infused with familiar scents and provided comfort.

Her range of materials is striking, and the visible materiality folds in the already encoded cultural meanings and values for materials and mediums before they are reassembled. Each sculpture is hand sewn, and may be assembled from fabric, nylon, leather, wood, bones, fur, hair, and metal found objects. She uses nylon as a handy code for the female body: nylon is used as a second skin, both to cover legs with a transparent sheathe and to define their shape and erotic potential. In her uniquely performative and hybrid sculptures, we find bodies made from welded steel or vintage textiles combined with machine parts, personal artifacts, dental casts, bees nests, an intersection of taboo and fetish, the bubbling up of repressions and deflections in fantasies achieving form.
She has exhibited in galleries and museums in DC, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Munich and New York. She was voted one of DC’s top 100 artists and her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Art in America, NYArt, TextielPlus and Art Investor Magazine. She is extremely proud to be making her Washington D.C. Museum debut at The American University Museum at The Katzen Arts Center.

Reception: November 12, 2016 6-9
Opening Reception: November 12, 6-9
Gallery Talk: November 19, 4-5
Guise and Dolls Workshop: December 3 & 4 11am – 4pm

American University Museum at the Katzen arts Center
4400 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016
(202) 885-1300

October 15, 2016