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'Silence Breakers' At Ely Center Opens On International Women's Day

John Slade Ely lived in the house at 51 Trumbull St. in New Haven for one year. His widow, Grace, lived there for more than five decades. Nonetheless, the house became known as the John Slade Ely House. Now it is Ely Center for Contemporary Art. Its new art exhibit is fitting: the pieces make statements about women silenced and disregarded. It opens on International Women’s Day, March 8.

About 100 artists, mostly women, contributed pieces to the unjuried show. Debbie Hesse, who organized the show for Ely Center in collaboration with Nasty Women Connecticut, says the venue is as important as the works.

“I think of them as subversive, placing them in a traditional house setting,” she says.

Rebeca Fuchs’ painting “Nihilominus” shows a pregnant, high-heeled Ivanka Trump, mouth sewn shut, amid sexist phrases: “too fat,” “too thin,” “the wage gap does not exist.”

Misty Lindsey draws attention to PTSD and anxiety with a painting “Me Too Can’t Sleep Need to Stay Woke.” Madeline Stenson focuses on mental health, too, with three abstract drawings with long, angsty titles like “It Feels Like It Never Ends.” Susan Guagliumi goes for humor, turning sanitary pads into blinged-out mixed-media pieces.

Upstairs is what co-organizer Debbie Hesse calls the “Ironic Wall,” pictures hung to resemble traditional family photo displays: a painting of a little girl biting the heads off of Barbies, a stitched piece called “there are no blurred lines.” Rashmi Talpade and Melanie Carr collaborated on a wall collage focusing on gun violence, with pillows mounted on the walls above for people to scream into.

The most striking piece was created by two students from the city’s magnet high school Educational Center for the Arts. Jahnice Bennett and Aliya Hafiz asked 15 acquaintances to tell them stories about vulnerability and consent. They recorded their responses, then created freeform plaster casts of the women crouching on the floor, in poses of oppression. Those pieces fill up one room of the house, with a video projection of a face of a crying woman. The voice recording play on a continuous loop.

“It’s a neverending cycle,” Bennett says.

SILENCE BREAKERS is at Ely Center of Contemporary Art, 51 Trumbull St. in New Haven, until April 5. The opening reception is March 8 from 5 to 8 p.m. elycenter.org.

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