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Cultivate Gallery casts a spell on the mundane with celestial summer exhibit

Cultivate Gallery's "because you’re [mine]" exhibit by storäe michele and Courtney Kessel explores self-repossession and motherhood, inviting visitors to engage in interactive rituals and dream work, highlighting the magic in the mundane.
A visitor holds a colorful exhibition booklet titled "because you're [mine]"

A visitor holds a colorful exhibition booklet titled "because you're [mine]" /Maylyn Southavilai

Want to see the exhibit for yourself?

You can see “because you’re [mine]” at Cultivate Gallery, located at 620 Wealthy Street SE. The exhibition is on display from now through Aug. 2. For more details, click here.

Inside the Cultivate Gallery, a guest explores the exhibit's lace-covered tent.

Inside the Cultivate Gallery, a guest explores the exhibit's lace-covered tent. /Maylyn Southavilai

A visitor at the Cultivate Gallery gazes thoughtfully at a delicate mobile installation

A visitor at the Cultivate Gallery gazes thoughtfully at a delicate mobile installation /Maylyn Southavilai

Inside the Cultivate gallery on Wealthy Street is a tent covered in lace and lined with a cozy rug. The space acts as a makeshift theater for the video portion ofbecause you’re [mine],” the exhibition by storäe michele and Courtney Kessel that seeks to examine self-repossession, motherhood and the power of finding magic in the mundane.

During the exhibition, which opened last month and is named after a lyric in Nina Simone’s “I Put A Spell On You,” Kessel and michele invite the crowd to participate in a group ritual in which audience members call upon their ancestors as michele pours water into a vase. 

“We wanted to create an interactive piece that welcomes viewers in. That will hopefully have a give-and-take feel to it,” Kessel explained.

Gallery visitors were given markers and paper to write down their recent dreams and pin them onto a metal shelf near the center of the gallery space on the “Leave a dream, take a dream” oracle wall. 

“We talked a lot about meaning-making and dream work,” michele said. “I tend to think that dreams are really amazing access points for us to have information. It’s telling us something. We’re encouraging people to tap into those mundane things, like sleeping.”

michele is a multidisciplinary artist from Baltimore whose work examines the intersections of pleasure, performance and storytelling as a Black nonbinary femme.

“A lot of my research and work is around how Black folks have kept their integrity and strength through so many different traumas that we’ve experienced,” michele said in an interview. “I got to this place where I realized that, even in the mundane things that my ancestors did, they were sustaining themselves. They were surviving and thriving at the same time.”

michele said she relies on collective storytelling in their art, which is noticeable in the collaborative nature of the show.

“I focus a lot on stories because I realize that our stories are reiterated through so many different cultures, especially myths,” michele said. “As long as it’s through intention, it doesn’t matter what you use: any object, any text. You give it meaning. You give it life through your own storytelling. I think a lot of my work reverberates from that.”

The mundane has an extraordinary place in the “because you’re [mine]” exhibition as the artists weave its cosmic meaning throughout.

One of Kessel’s pieces for the show, “Enchante,” is an installation that plays on the reflections of everyday materials. Together, the stacked mirrors and trinkets create a collage of light.  

“There’s a sort of specialness that happens, out of the mundane, just by using those materials,” elaborated Kessel.

Kessel said much of her work is based on her personal experience as a mother. The Athens, Ohio-based interdisciplinary performance artist and sculptor began collaborating with her daughter when her daughter (who is now 19 years old and still performs with Kessel) was just five years old. 

“The spells that came into my practice were based on protection for her. I think that the background of what we’re saying is largely about the intentionality behind the thing,” Kessel said.

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