Art Exhibit ‘Butchcraft’ Examines Stereotypes Through Craft

Loyola fine arts professor Betsy Odom uses her crafting techniques to challenge ideas about gender, sexuality and sports in her exhibit, “Butchcraft.” 

More than 20 sculptures are displayed on a 30-foot long shelf at the DePaul Art Museum (DPAM) in Odom’s exhibit. Red-brown gym shorts sit on the table among other items: a funnel cake, a frisbee and a soccer ball. Upon closer observation, viewers will see the gym shorts are different — they’re made of leather, losing its function.

Odom, a lesbian artist, said she started to plan the exhibit a year ago. Most of the pieces were made in 2017 and 2018, but some pieces — including the gym shorts — are older. Odom said the gym shorts, created in 2014, were the genesis of her craft work.

Odom has worked in Chicago for almost 12 years, and she got her Masters of Fine Arts at Yale University. Her artwork mostly focuses on sculptures, but she also has a drawing practice, she said. 

“Butchcraft” features sculptures made of a variety of materials and made through traditionally masculine crafting techniques such as woodworking and leather tooling. Odom said her art subverts the ordinary objects into something unusual, challenging people’s expectations of the objects and what they like or dislike about them. This is considered as “queering” the everyday objects, Odom said.

“Every material is chosen precisely but done with a sense of humor to lighten up or disarm this conversation about queerness and about difference and about desire,” she said. 

The exhibit is laid out like a thrift shop with several pieces collected into a small space, which creates a specific viewing experience, Odom said. 

“I want the viewers to sort of have almost a shopping experience with the sculptures the experience of ‘I like that one’ or ‘I don’t like that one’ and then to deal with ‘well why is it that I’m more attracted to this piece that has pop culture sensibilities and less attracted to this athletic piece?’” she said.

Odom inserts motifs citing specific lesbian stereotypes such as flannels, softballs and Subarus. Many elements of lesbian culture are unknown in mainstream culture, but some are common knowledge, Odom said. 

“There are a few pieces that speak very directly to the queer experience,” she said. “I had a soccer cleat that has the Subaru logo [and] has a big tongue; it’s lined with flannel. It’s very, very gay.”

Sports are a common thread in several pieces, including a wooden bowling pin, a cleat, a leather mitt and a graphite and wax mouthguard. Odom said she was especially interested in women’s sports.

“Women’s athletics are so unobserved in our culture,” she said. “You don’t turn on the TV to watch women’s soccer. So a lot of interesting things start happening within women’s sports that nobody’s really paying attention [to.]”

Although visitors might be drawn to certain pieces more than others, Odom said there hasn’t been a piece that stands out as a universal favorite.

“During the opening people would come up and tell me what their favorite piece was and I swear 20 different people did it, and it was 20 different pieces,” she said.

Odom said she has a piece she holds closer to her heart than others — a life vest. The piece is one of the larger objects with bold colors — bright pink, neon yellow, blue and lavender. It’s made of leather, paint, strapping and fabric.

“The craft and the labor is more intense than you would ever know just by looking at it so I see the piece and I feel this real pride that I finished it and I didn’t mess it up,” she said.

 Along with “Butchcraft,” Odom worked together with artist Karolina Gnatowski — who goes by Kg — on an interactive piece. Gnatowski, who has their exhibit “Some Kind of Duty” on display at the DPAM created a badminton net and rackets with Odom this year, and visitors can play.

“Butchcraft” is on display at DPAM (935 W. Fullerton Ave.) until March 31. Admission is free.

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