Friends and art lovers gathered this weekend at Germantown’s Imperfect Gallery, located 5601 Greene St., to view two new exhibitions, including one focused on politics.
Imperfect Gallery has become a central gathering place for Germantown’s artistic community. Since opening last June, the gallery has funded its operations almost entirely through the donations and assistance from the neighborhood.
Renny Molenaar and his wife, Rocio Cabello, opened the gallery after moving from New York City nine years ago.
With November’s election, Molenaar and Cabello became interested in promoting an exhibition that highlights politics in the United States. After meeting photographer Robert J. Brand a few weeks ago, they found the perfect exhibition.
Brand was present in 1966 for the Meredith Mississippi March and took photos of the event. James Meredith was the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi in 1962, and a few years later, Meredith decided to lead a walk from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss.
“As a gallery, you don’t often have the opportunity to do something historical,” Molenaar said. “Showing something that was photographed in 1966 with the artist here is exciting.”
Meredith’s intentions were to lead the march to encourage the rights of African-Americans to register to vote. On the first day of the walk, Meredith was shot. While he recovered, other civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. decided to finish the march in his honor.
At the time Brand wanted to take part in the march more than anything, but after bringing his camera with him, he decided to document the trek through his photographs.
More than 40 years after the Meredith Mississippi March, Brand decided to exhibit the photographs in response to his disillusionment with myriad new restrictive voter laws that have been attempted or enacted throughout the country.
Brand’s exhibit titled, “It Has Always Been About Voting,” captured images from the three-week march for voter rights and he used the images to mirror the current restrictive voting laws’ potential to impact this year’s election.
New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice reported that the restrictive voter laws passed in the country could make voting more difficult for five million Americans.
However, there has been a pushback against these laws in many states including Pennsylvania, where a law requiring a state-issued ID to vote, was postponed until after the election.
Still, the Brennan Center for Justice concluded 14 states have passed restrictive voting laws and executive actions. These new laws have the potential to impact this year’s election because 185 electoral votes come out of the 14 states, which is 68 percent of the amount needed to win the election.
Brand said he believe the introduction of the state-issued voter ID law was a calculated attempt by Republicans to stifle certain voter demographics, including college students, immigrants, those living in poverty and urban residents.
Brand said he plans to give all proceeds from sales of his photographs to Priorities USA Action, a Super PAC that supports President Obama’s re-election bid.
In June, Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania’s Republican House majority leader said during a speech, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania [is] done.”
Cabello said to avoid any controversy, the gallery let Brand control all of the proceeds from the exhibition.
“It’s kind of tricky because we are not for profit and that’s why we decided not to get into the economic side of it,” she said.
While Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court did postpone the voter ID law until after the presidential election, there has been an increase in voter-requirement laws including ID laws as well as the shortening of early voting.
In addition to Brand’s exhibition, photographer Miguel Angel opened an exhibition the same night at Imperfect Gallery.
His exhibit, titled “Culito Grab,” included proofs from postcards he designed of Staten Island, as well as a large photo of the AIDS quilt when it arrived in Washington, D.C. in 1994.
“Most of my stuff is just taken in the street,” Angel said. “I usually say images find me because I just somehow bump into them.”
Angel, a photographer of 27 years, has been a close friend of Molenaar’s since college.
“In a sense we’re almost brothers,” Angel said.
Both Brand and Angel’s exhibitions will be running at Imperfect Gallery until Nov. 24.
Molenaar and Cabello will hold a fundraising potluck for the gallery the same weekend the exhibitions end.
Molenaar has held potluck dinners among friends and artists for the last 20 years, and each month he tries to give the dinners a theme.
“Most of our dinners have a minimum contribution of $25,” Molenaar said. “But because so many people are concerned with our gallery’s survival, they often give much more than that.”
This month’s dinner theme will be a Thanksgiving leftover potluck. Unlike other dinners, this month’s will not have a minimum contribution.
“This next supper, we wanted to include our friends who can’t pay the minimum,” Molenaar said. “We want give thanks because we truly feel grateful. I’m hoping to have a table filled end to end with all our crazy friends.”
Anyone interested in any art medium is encouraged to get involved with Imperfect Gallery.
“We have really high hopes that people will appreciate this and we really don’t have a plan,” Cabello said. “I just think it brings out the best in people to come to a place where they can feel passion for something.”