Vinegar is a women-led, nonprofit contemporary art gallery in Birmingham that enthusiastically champions the cause of working artists in the area. This includes those who eschew the mainstream and push the boundaries of emerging and experimental forms, including installation, performance and video.
The many artists who’ve shown work at Vinegar have come from Birmingham and many other locales.
“We bring artists here from across the country and world to offer fresh perspectives and inspiration for the artists who live here, and to facilitate face-to-face connections for our local communities to form links that could lead to opportunities outside of Alabama,” said Vinegar co-founder and co-director Melissa Yes. “We want the world to pay attention to Birmingham and its community of artists.”
Vinegar, which began as an artist collective in 2018, has hosted 14 exhibitions since the grand opening of its gallery in Forest Park in early 2020. Each of those exhibitions has been assembled by Yes and her co-founder and co-director, Ann Trondson.
However, Vinegar breaks new ground this month when it hosts its first show presented by an outside curator.
The Mid-South Sculpture Alliance (MSA) – in collaboration with Vinegar – will present “Embattled Bodies: Trauma, Displacement and Empowerment,” a national juried sculpture exhibition curated by Karlota Contreras-Koterbay, at Vinegar from Nov. 12 to Jan. 7. The opening will be held Nov. 12 from 5-8 p.m.
“We don’t have room in our exhibition rotation to pursue collaborations like this very often, so this is an exciting opportunity for us,” said Yes, who also serves as an assistant professor of digital media at the University of Alabama.
Stacy Holloway – a Birmingham sculptor and MSA board member – reached out to Vinegar this summer with the idea for “Embattled Bodies,” Yes said.
In addition to the “Embattled Bodies” opening, Vinegar will host its second annual DANCE YRSELF CLEAN fundraising party at Harvest Roots Ferments in Avondale on Saturday, November 19, at 6:30 p.m.
As it did last year, DANCE YRSELF CLEAN will feature an art auction, dance performances and a dance party with DJs.
Proceeds from the event will go to support both Vinegar’s public programming, all of which is free, as well as the nonprofit’s ongoing commitment to supporting artists financially.
Bodies in ‘struggle’
“Embattled Bodies” seeks to explore an important aspect of the current social and political landscape in America though a look at the human form, according to organizers.
“The theme for this exhibition is the body, the governed, embattled, empowered bodies of resistance and agency,” said Contreras-Koterbay, who is MSA board director and director of the Slocumb Galleries at East Tennessee State University. “From Black Lives Matter to the aggressive assault on the Roe vs. Wade decision or the rights for trans youth to receive care, our bodies are in a constant struggle for autonomy, equality and self-representation.”
“The past few years have been filled with contentions and threats to the bodily autonomy of Black people, women, trans persons, immigrants and numerous other groups,” Yes said.
Artists were encouraged to submit works “that redefine, reinvestigate and recontextualize the body and its politics,” Contreras-Koterbay said.
“The exhibition features three dimensional or installation artworks that portray the human body as forms of resistance, memory, experience, and history,” she said.
“Sculpture—existing in three dimensions just like each of us—has a tangible physicality and spatial relationship to viewers that conveys the very real, precarious materiality of bodies,” Yes said.
The artists presenting work in “Embattled Bodies” are Francis Akosah, Tameca Cole, Brooke Day, Valerie Gilbert, April Knauber, Baggs McKelvey, Carolina Meyer, Nikii Richey, Suzanna Scott, Jess Self and Sarit Somasa.
An ‘energetic celebration’
The first installment of DANCE YRSELF CLEAN in 2021 was “an energetic and wholesome celebration of our creative community,” Yes said.
Attendees at this year’s installment at Harvest Roots Ferments on November 19 will be able to shop at a silent art auction beginning at 6:30 p.m.
At 8:30 p.m., attendees will watch contemporary dance performances curated by Dr. Fen Kennedy, assistant professor of theater and dance at the University of Alabama.
A dance party with DJs will begin at 9 p.m. The fundraiser is named after the popular 2010 dance track “Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem.
There will also be food trucks on site.
DANCE YRSELF CLEAN is extremely important to Vinegar’s annual fundraising efforts, Yes said.
“All of our public programs are free, and this party is our only ticketed event,” she said. “Because we do not rely on art sales, Vinegar relies on funding from grants, merchandise sales and individual donations.”
The nonprofit also takes pride in its fundraising model, which provides pay for artists – even those whose work is very challenging.
“Vinegar is adamant about fair pay for creative labor,” Yes said. “We pay every artist who exhibits in our space, regardless of whether they sell art during their exhibition.
“Artists contribute significant cultural capital to our city and deserve to be remunerated with monetary capital,” she said.
The gallery seeks to “support artists’ desires to experiment, take risks and challenge themselves and their audiences without the limitations of marketability and sales potential,” Yes said.
Tickets for DANCE YRSELF CLEAN are $25.
Vinegar is located at 701 37th St. S., Suite #12. For more information, go to vinegarprojects.org.
For more about the MSA, go to midsouthsculpture.org.