Katherine Noble, Contributing Writer
VCUarts alum LaRissa Rogers’ exhibit “Invisible Weight,” which opened at the Rump Gallery on Nov. 9 with a performance, deals with the complicated roles women play in their families and the tensions and sacrifices they must negotiate.
Rogers graduated this spring from VCUarts’ fashion merchandising and painting and printmaking departments, with dual minors in art history and business. This range of experience is evident in the diverse textures of her work.
“This exhibit was an ode to the resilience and strength of women of color as mothers,” Rogers said through a direct message on Instagram. “For me, the home is a place of safety, but it can also become a place of discomfort. This exhibition drew on both of those realities, the complexities of home, motherhood and the unconditional love that blankets it all.”
Rogers’ work is a striking combination of fabric embroidered with standard decorative sayings and glossy red architectural metal pieces.
Kim Peters and Noah Hook, the co-founders of the Rump Gallery, were introduced to Rogers’ work through VCUarts. Hook spent time with Rogers in painting and printmaking classes and was impressed by the artistic concepts she was working with and the potential she exhibited.
“Invisible Weight is actually the only solo exhibition that did not begin with an application,” Hook said in an email. “I had reached out to LaRissa personally about being the first artist to show, as I wanted a really strong start to the Rump and I knew LaRissa could deliver.”
The exhibit was initially supposed to go up in September, but Rogers was faced with a personal emergency that made her unable to present at the time. Hook said the final product was well worth the wait.
Peters added that Rogers’ work is conceptually complex and lends itself to non-traditional spaces like the Rump.
“Her execution allows for conversation and conceptual growth,” Peters said in an email. “In many cases, the questions and conversations held are equally as important as the work itself.”
Rogers drew off of her own experiences as an Afro-Asian woman growing up with an array of adopted and foster siblings. She saw her mother as an example of unconditional love and the many forms in which love and strength can come, despite sometimes complex family dynamics.
The opening exhibit also featured a joint performance from Rogers and Clara Leonor Cruz. In the performance, the two interacted with each other and the objects within the space, speaking at times to each other or themselves.
They repeated dialogue throughout the performance, and red yarn — which could be seen in many of the pieces — was also used to momentarily stitch themselves together and reattach pieces of a disconnected bed frame.
Hook said the dialogue in the performance was reminiscent of conversations between family members, and that the small size of the space placed the audience right in the midst of the experience.
“Their performance was vulnerable, heartfelt and spoke to the relationship between mothers and daughters — or any family member for that matter,” Peters said. “A bond that changes over time, and one that is often strained. LaRissa and Clara’s use of language and repetition grounded the performance, allowing for a point of conceptual accessibility.”
Rogers saw the performance as a way to continue developing her collaborative practice with Leonor Cruz, in which they often work through ideas about home, family and their roles within those spaces.
The performance was called “Before I’m a mother, I am a woman,” and it referenced the complicated roles women play in their families and the tensions between personal sacrifice, care, work and self preservation.
“We used the metaphor of binding and unbinding red thread to talk about kinship ties across generations and holding family together,” Rogers said. “We drew on phrases passed down from our mothers and grandmothers as a way to affirm, encourage, and express the intricacy of mother as protector.”
Rogers hopes her work informs viewers of these tensions and communicates the strength passed down through the women in her family.
The Rump Gallery, at 2320 5th Ave., will have its closing show for “Invisible Weight” on Nov. 30 from 5-7 p.m.