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United they stand: E Pluribus Unum 

Out of many artists, one show

Daring and ambitious over safe and staid — that's the game plan adopted by Charlotte arts scene stalwart Crista Cammaroto.

Seizing the national spotlight that is the Democratic National Convention, Cammaroto, director of galleries for UNC-Charlotte's College of Arts + Architecture, decided to get bold with E Pluribus Unum, a mixed-media show featuring some of the city's emerging and established creatives alongside nationally recognized talent. The exhibit begins this Friday, Aug. 24, and will run through Nov. 11 in the UNCC City Center building downtown.

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Cammaroto says the University wants Charlotte residents and vistors alike to know that "we are not afraid to have open conversations about issues that matter."

She adds, "It was important to me to present a divergent point of view with this opportunity and not make this about one party or the other. Rather, the show presents a spectrum of what the political process means in America and how we are the United States, despite or perhaps even because of our differences."

Linguists may debate the subtlety in the different interpretations of "E Pluribus Unum," with some arguing for an "out of many, one" translation and others lobbying for "one from many parts." Regardless where you fall, the show offers a great deal to ponder and comes at viewers from divergent points on the political, artistic and emotional spectrum. The Tea Party, Amendment One, the Occupy Movement, middle-class values, religion and government surveillance are all laid bare for dissection and interpretation.

Cammaroto went to the Library of Congress for access to the historic work of Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas, American photographers during World War I who became known for their large-scale images of Lady Liberty, the Liberty Bell and the U.S. flag, all comprised of legions of soldiers posing in temporary giant murals.

These black-and-white images stand in stark contrast to the recent color photographs taken by local photojournalist Grant E. Baldwin.

Baldwin, a freelancer for this publication, exhibits in his first show, sharing 100 5-by-7 images of the recent Occupy Charlotte movement. Vibrant and evocative, the photos show people with real concerns confronting the incongruities dividing the 1 percent from the masses. Fragile, emotional and fervent about their "cause," the occupiers appear resolute to their status-quo fate and, in a staging metaphor, have been shunted into a small corner of the gallery by Cammaroto.

Artwork from no less than 10 contributors confronts the viewer at every turn, including a ceiling-hanging installation, "In God We Trust," by Georgian Michael Murphy; a conceptual art piece (think word-based melting ice sculpture) by the Brooklyn-based artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese; a voting "confessional" developed by local architect, artist and adjunct UNCC professor Carrie Gault; and an eerie sound installation compiled by Charlotte-based reality engineer Jason Michel and featuring a Robert Kennedy speech with Walter Cronkite newscasts in the background. Krista Corwin, a local ceramic artist, shows oversized functional ware symbolic to the Tea Party movement.

One of the most provocative series comes from the local visual artist Barbara Schreiber, another contributor to this publication. Her "We Are Watching" is a set of six 8-by-8 pieces depicting people engaged in suspicious behaviors, all under surveillance by drones. From copulating coyotes and streetwalkers encountering hedgehogs to drones soaring over a large herd of sheep, Schreiber's subjects struggle with what it means to be watched during those times that are the most intimate and personal.

Schreiber says of her symbols: "There must be a compelling (although often mysterious) reason for using them. They are not there just to be cute or funny; they must also embody some inchoate longing, anxiety or other unresolved emotion."

Why are the watchers watching? Are the watchers the government? What are the ramifications of being seen? Hers is the type of work that offers more questions than answers.

E Pluribus Unum includes such a vast body of work that it won't be contained to strictly the gallery space. Starting Sept. 15, images from the show will be projected onto the side of the building. Selected works from the Special Collections of UNCC that feature Charlotte Observer political cartoonist Eugene Payne, Observer photographer Steve Pirelli, and papers from the last four Charlotte mayors will be on display in the building's lobby. Cammaroto noted that the political papers and cartoons are as topical today as they were 30 years ago.

It seems with American politics, the only things that truly change over time are the seats in the leadership chairs.

The exhibit E Pluribus Unum will be on display Aug. 24-Nov. 11 (closed to the public Sept. 3-6) in the Progressive Eye Gallery at UNCC's City Center building, 707 N. Brevard St. Details at http://coaa.uncc.edu or 704-687-8902.

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