Few would argue with the notion that war is evil. Some may claim it as a necessary evil, but the qualifier hardly helps. If anything, that it’s necessary makes it all the more terrifying, because that means it is an essential part of our humanity. History would appear to verify this, and even in today’s supposedly enlightened era, the continued resilience of war boggles the mind.
I would not, however, argue that war isn’t alluring. As a child I loved playing with anything war-related, including toy guns and plastic army men. When I got older I became enamored with war movies, and then with graphically-detailed video games that put me in the first-person perspective of soldiers barreling into battle. In real life, I find the thought of war abhorrent, so why do I spend so much time simulating it for my personal entertainment?
In truth, I long ago stopped trying to answer that question, and the only reason I’m thinking of it now is because I stopped into Re:View Contemporary Gallery to check out “War Paint,” a new series of paintings by Niagara, the legendary Detroit artist and musician. The work on display — a series of pop-art cartoons featuring busty female soldiers with captions like, “Treat ‘em rough, boys” — explores the allure of violence through the lens of sexuality.
Loosely borrowing the style of WWII propaganda posters, each painting holds both visual and subversive appeal, without pushing too far into anti-war propaganda. But there’s certainly enough there to make one think about one’s own relationship with war, if not — more broadly speaking — about society’s signifiers regarding the rugged bravado and virility assigned to life as a soldier. Of course, this discussion is far from essential in terms of enjoying the show. The paintings exist on their own terms — beautiful, simple and alluring — and they are most certainly worth a visit.
Re:View Contemporary Gallery: 444 W. Willis (suite 112), Detroit; 313-833-9000; reviewcontemporary.com