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Betsy Odom, butchcraft, LGBTQ identity and art
by Ada Cheng
2019-01-08

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Chicago-based artist Betsy Odom will have her first museum solo exhibit at DePaul Art Museum, along with artist Karolina Gnatowski. Their collaboration will highlight themes on weaving, sports, and LGBTQ identity. They are among the growing list of Chicago artists being featured at this museum.

The title for Odom's exhibit can be both enchanting and bewildering depending on the audience: "Butchcraft". She summed up her artistic practice with one sentence: "My art is queer because I create art in a butch way."

For Odom, butchcraft carries the double meanings of queering her craft ( the butch way of doing things and using masculine-suggestive materials ) as well as queering the content of her art.

"I try to do everything as butchly as possible," said Odom. "In my studio practice, it means that you try as hard as you can, using butchest techniques, using power tools, using woodcarving, using airbrushing and leather-tooling, and using materials associated with masculinity. With an attempt to be impressive and show my bravado. Show the butch pride."

In that sense, butchcraft is about heightening some aspects of the butch culture/identity, performing gender, taking on the faÞade of masculinity, and expressing a certain type of desire and attraction ( the butch-femme dynamics ). "I remake objects as a way to queer moments in culture," Odom explained.

In addition to queering her craft, there is also the queering of her art. For Odom, it means that her art work often includes objects, symbols, and references that have come to represent certain stereotypes about the butch culture, the butch identity or butch dykes more specifically. Many of the materials she uses, such as Birkenstock sandals and handkerchiefs, are codes of gender for her or access points for understanding gender for the general public.

Women's sports and sport items for women then provide great entry points to raise questions about our cultural assumptions about gender and about our social discomfort with the female masculinity. "I am especially interested in sporting goods: women's sport is fascinating to me. It is still relatively rare to experience women's physicality," Odom added.

In highlighting these stereotypes and heightening their association with masculinity, Odom's exhibit serves to question our current state of gender inequity and/or to subvert our inequitable practices of gender. "At the end of the day, I am not a big fan of gender. I think it is a pretty obsolete concept. I do think there needs to be room within the female gender for the butch lesbian. Rather than feeling like I have to get out of femininity because I am too much of a man, there should be a place in femininity for me." She hopes that her art work can provide some impetus for discussions and reflections on our current gender politics, both within and outside of the art world.

In this exhibit, Odom's art work will be arranged as if they were on display for sale. She would like to invite the audience to consider these objects' utilitarian functions as well as their intrinsic value as art.

Odom also wants to raise questions about taste, consumption and sexuality. As she explained, "The exhibit will be about 30 feet long with about 30 pieces of artwork. I was thinking about thrift stores or antique malls, with dozens of objects on the shelf. None of them have anything to do with one another. What connects them is the connection that you make. They are connected through your desire. In my show, I want you to think about why it is that you desire certain things but not other things. This brings out the whole conversation about taste, about what you are into, and why you are into something."

DePaul Art Museum is at 935 W. Fullerton Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission is free. Additional information at artmuseum.depaul.edu or 773-325-7506.


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