SUBMERGE: Local Artists Confront Culture on H Street

A giant nude man holds a bright red bowling ball in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He has a dazed, almost bewildered look on his face and as he peers at the viewer through wire-framed glasses, the on-looker cannot help but to giggle at his knee-high socks and protruding belly.

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Part of a triptych exhibiting mighty men emasculated, stripped of all but their socks, the Martin Swift paintings are some of the less confrontational artworks that have recently flooded the vacant H Street venue as part of the nine day flash ‘art happening,’ Submerge. 

Presented by No Kings Collective, the group that brought the Waterstreet Project to Malmaison at the Georgetown Waterfront in April, is back with its 2nd annual “ode to the District,” a temporary art space that features the works of 23 local artists in a range of mediums, from performance and graffiti to photography and installation. 

Dancing to the beats of DJs sponsored by Listen Local First and munching on bites by H Street newcomers Impala and H & Pizza, arts patrons engaged with Michael Owen’s striking graphic paintings by slipping on a pair of 3-D glasses.

“It felt like I was in the car next to this one, just zooming by,” said Columbia Heights resident Rashaan of the painted racecars that appear to be propelled off the canvas.

Though all distinct in theme and medium, the curated works shared a sense of challenge.

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DC-based artists collective Truth Among Liars provokes a range of emotion among viewers with their installation of blow up-sex dolls. Lined in rows with paint-smeared faces that erase any individual characteristics, and orifices exposed to unequivocally identify gender, the “Latex Warrior Burial Artifacts” directly confront issues of contemporary feminism.

“Are we this interchangeable? “ said 33 year-old Angela Michael of the imposing objects that captivate their audiences with not only disquieting aesthetics, but also with troubling scents of plastic and paint that inevitably seep into the viewer’s space, implicating him as a proprietor of the female position.

Turning away from the captivating accusation of society, one is confronted by Victoria Milko’s examination into the extraordinary life of a firefighter.

“I wanted to show the family and the bonding, the everyday life,” said Milko who lived with 15 male volunteers at the Hyattsville Fire Department for eight months before creating the installation.

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Haunting images of heroes defeated and victims helpless in the wake of natural forces are framed by yellow tape reading, “FIRE LINE DO NOT CROSS.” The spellbinding black and white photographs are shown within the context of a fabricated fireman’s locker and simulate an evocative environment.

“It really creates a nice environment,” said 25 year-old breakdancer James Wu, “You don’t immediately gravitate towards a burned down house but these photos really draw you in.”

On display from 1 to 6 p.m. until November 18 at 700 H St. NE, Submerge hosts nightly events for free in collaboration with such groups as Listen Local First, Somaphony and KOLTON.J. 

Bringing the Art in DC to You,

Roxanne Goldberg