The Shapes of Truths Told

Katie Avila Loughmiller + Siara Berry + Lois Bielefeld + Phoenix S Brown + David Najib Kasir + Nykoli Koslow + Anika Kowalik + Okja Kwon + Fatima Laster + Ck Ledesma

This past year and a half has manifested numerous ways for people to feel unsafe and unsure of their futures. For those of us at Woodland Pattern, many of the loudest voices we encountered in the public sphere during this period of necessary protest and quarantine were not ones we felt we could trust, and we also knew that these voices were attempting to unilaterally write history. We continue to reject this violent, exclusionary attempt, and we’ve felt fortunate to come into contact with many Milwaukee-based artists whose visions fortify and clarify that rejection—artists whose work is on display now in The Shape of Truths Told

The Shapes of Truths Told is a collaborative exhibition that amplifies voices and stories from throughout our community, complicating the narrow and often vitriolic narratives pervasive in the American sociopolitical landscape. We asked past exhibiting local artists Molly Hassler, Vaughan Larsen, Ck Ledesma, Howard Leu, and Valaria Tatera to share the names of a few Milwaukee artists who impact them, specifically through the thoughtfulness and timeliness of their work against the backdrop of this past year. 

By way of this multidimensional curatorial approach, we hope to provide a broader and thus more accurate telling of history-at-large, offering a more comprehensive understanding of the world we live in, and the world we create.

The Shape of Truths Told

While sending our invitation to the curators and then to their suggested artists, we also shared the poem “Figurative As Literal ” by Claire Meuschke, and asked if they might have ideas about artwork in dialogue with Meuschke’s words:

            "Figurative As Literal"

           someone can replace someone with a like or as
           someone can replace someone without a like or as
           replacement can mean literally relocated
           or figuratively placed in a hole

           like side-by-side without the like
           is still side-by-side

           birds made homes out of trees and then we did

           associated or dissociated
           a figure is real
           a number is literate
           products like people
           come with a number and a name

           I would hope that reading this in reverse would
           image like a mirror
           like history as a way to remember doesn't image

                                             –from Upend (Noemi Press, 2020)

While “Figurative As Literal” highlights how the function of a metaphor mirrors the violence of imperialism and human displacement—a person, after all, can never truly be reduced to an image or a politicized idea—the poem’s last stanza also calls directly to the strong potential of intimate representation in the image, suggesting that through great attention to the art-making process we can work to change how we remember. Through the image, we have an opportunity to negotiate compassionately with our subjects and interlocutors, moving away from false representation into a history that will ultimately draw us nearer to ourselves and to others. On the walls here are a few examples of a way forward, a hope that our histories—and our collective history—are able to more closely “image like a mirror.”

The Shapes of Truths Told

Katie Avila Loughmiller is an interdisciplinary social practice artist, writer, educator, curator and activist. Through her work she dissects, uncovers and collages together her cultural complexity and female identity while simultaneously deeply immersing herself in collaboration, community and site specific work. Avila Loughmiller received her undergraduate degree at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University and completed her Master of Fine Arts degree in the Public Practice program at Otis College of Art & Design. Avila Loughmiller has been an artist-in-residence most notably at Santa Fe Art Institute, Atlantic Center for the Arts and Vermont Studio Center. Avila Loughmiller is the co-founder of LUNA (Latinas Unidas en las Artes), a Latinx artist collective, a founding member of Heard Space, a women of color led and focused performance arts collective, and a founding member of Milwaukee Action Intersection, a grassroots social justice organization -- all based in Milwaukee, WI. In 2020, Avila Loughmiller received the 2020 Vel R. Phillips Trailblazer Award for her service to the community. She is currently serving as the Coordinating Producer on Out of the Picture, a documentary film about art critics and is an adjunct professor in the theatre department at UWM.

The “monstruo” is a drawing of a mural that I saw painted on a wall near downtown Bogotá, Colombia in 2018. It stood out to me not just because of its scale but because it felt a little out of place. Yet, it also seemed to fit so perfectly on the wall that it was painted on. I couldn’t help but relate to this mural monster — belonging and not belonging in Bogotá. I was born in Bogotá but raised in the United States due to being adopted as an infant. Both the digital drawing and the poem are snippets into a much longer, complicated story of me finding my biological family and visiting them along with my birth place for the first time. Whimsical, scary, beautiful, terrifying, confusing and monumental. This piece, this part of my story, holds many truths at once.

Monstruo Abroad
digital prints
2 - 6.5 x 6.5” framed

The Shapes of Truths Told

Berry graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2015 holding a degree in Sculpture and Creative Writing. After traveling to London as part of the Windgate Fellowship, Berry returned to Milwaukee to pursue a career as a creative professional. Berry currently works as a project director and fabricator as a local design firm and maintains her studio practice alongside. She has exhibited her work throughout the Midwest including Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Chicago and has been recognized by the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design as well as The Museum of Wisconsin Art.

My studio practice is an overarching critique of American housing systems and ideals. First-hand experiences, historical domestic trends and housing policies inform the work; blending metaphorical narratives with socioeconomic research. Using a combination of found materials and symbols of domesticity, my process is a conceptual extraction of the object’s connotations; relying on manipulation and recontextualization to emphasize the complexities of home life. My work challenges preconceived notions of place, purpose, and function through absurdist exaggeration and isolated words or phrases. In between emotions of desire and disgust, I grapple with the tensions of domestic expectations alongside the diverse realities of the home/house archetype.

A fundamental aspect of the work is the use of recognizable imagery to evoke a sense of familiarity, whereas the context of the image or object communicates an air of uncomfortability. Welcome mats, fence pickets and real estate iconography are used as indicators of domesticity, while language and manipulation redirect the viewer to a place of contemplation, raising the questions ‘for who?’ and ‘for what?’ The work often presents itself with underlying feelings of tension and dysfunction to represent unspoken, or underrepresented, domestic realities. These feelings, paralleled by public frustrations with housing policies and pressured American ideology, can be felt in work like ‘Sub Division’, a stretched and divided real estate sign that simply reads ‘FOR’, indicating an undetermined purpose.

My interest in the domestic archetype is rooted in unresolved feelings of disappointment and failed expectations, having witnessed my parent’s tumultuous divorce and unhealthy homelife. As I process my own domestic narrative, I feel compelled to connect with others to expand perceptions of how a home can function and what a home looks like. By addressing larger housing issues, my work bridges the gap between individual experience and community, highlighting similarities like the desire for stability or frustration with the American housing paradigm.

Handle With Care
picket fence, cardboard, packing material
4” x 5” x 40” (each) x6
Overall Install Dim. Vary

Notice to Tenant
printed fabric
40” x 28”

The Shapes of Truths Told

Lois Bielefeld is a queer series-based artist working in photography, audio, video, and installation. Her work continually asks the question of what links routine and ritual to the formation of identity and personhood and the development of meaning-making. Currently settled in Milwaukee, Lois has lived on both coasts. After her daughter went off to college, Bielefeld decided to pursue her graduate degree and just completed her MFA at California Institute of the Arts. Besides photography, she feels passionate about traveling, hiking, eating, swimming and bicycling adventures with her wife. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City, the Museum of Wisconsin Art, Saint Kate Arts Hotel, The Warehouse Museum and The Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin. Bielefeld has shown at The International Center of Photography in New York City, The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, The Charles Allis Art Museum, and Portrait Society Gallery.

Inheritance: the space between breathes. Recitation #13 and #1. 2021 is the 13th and 1st attempts by Lois Bielefeld to recite from memory Juliana Spahr’s “untitled” poem from “thisconnectionofeveryonewithlungs.” In an attempt to mimic her mother’s daily practice of Bible memorization Lois repeatedly attempts to understand what is occurring while inscribing a text on to the self.

Inheritance: the space between breathes. Recitation #13 and #1
digital video, TRT 18:59


(installation view)

(clip from Inheritance: the space between breathes. Recitation #13)

The Shapes of Truths Told

Phoenix S Brown is an interdisciplinary artist who highlights dialogues around Black feminism, personal narrative, and pop culture while critiquing western ideals of nature, still life, and portraiture. Brown graduated from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 2019 with an art history minor and focus in painting. In 2018, she was a resident artist at Yale Norfolk School of Art.

In 2021, Brown was awarded an individual artist grant by gener8tor Art. She currently splits her time between working in her studio, being the summer Artist-in-Residence at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, and the Abert Family Curatorial Fellow at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Her work can be found in Artdose Magazine and New American Paintings.

That’s My Favorite Part challenges the fetishization of Black culture in popular media. In a literal sense, this painting highlights specific nuances of Black culture that are appropriated, exploited, and sold, such as athletic abilities and our buttocks.

But through its abstractedness, That’s My Favorite Part attempts to describe the messy, Frankenstein pop culture space, where Blackness is mangled and disassociated from Black folks. Even the torture of Black bodies is open for exploitation when triggering images and videos are shared online. This painting offers no free resolution — it is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the oppressor.

That’s My Favorite Part
acrylic and faux fur on canvas
60 x 64 in.

The Shapes of Truths Told

David Najib Kasir is an Artist/Painter who lives and works in Milwaukee WI. His work comprises of personal narratives in life and cultural history or events. In recent years, Kasir’s work draws from stories from his parents’ journey to the U.S. and the current crisis from where they migrated from (Syria-Mother/ Iraq- Father). As an artist born here, Kasir reveals his cultural identity in paint and designs to inform the viewers on the recent wars in Syria, in hopes viewers can grow an understanding of the millions of voiceless arabs now living in chaos and disarray. By using beautiful traditional Arab designs called Zellige to dress the figures in his work, Kasir shows the beauty of a culture and the tragedy as families try to hold on to it and hold on to each other as everything around them falls apart. Kasir has a BFA in painting from Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design from 2001 and is the proud father of two teenage daughters (one being an artist herself).

X - Y + E = Shelter Me From This: This piece was made in 2016 and one of the first successful pieces I made as I started building my language in talking about the (what was then) 3-4 year war. I focussed in on family, separation and the ghosts left in desperate survival.

Y x Z + The Distance - My Children Along the Way: This piece is compromised of pieces from furniture discovered in the ruins of a bombed out building in Aleppo that was sent to me to use from a family friend in Syria.

X - Y + E = Shelter Me From This
encaustic & acrylic on panel
17 x 23”

Y x Z + The Distance - My Children Along the Way
encaustic on panel
22 x 22”

The Shapes of Truths Told

Nykoli Koslow, b. 1989 Chicago IL, is an artist currently working out of Milwaukee, WI. Working under the canon of Trans* abstraction, Nykoli fuses figuration with abstraction to explore notions of bodily autonomy, agency and divinity within the Trans-Masc experience. Rooted in painting, Nykoli’s practice spans into drawing, video projection and virtual reality. Part autobiographical and part research based; his current series turns the visceral feelings of gender dysphoria into a queer cosmology. His work pulls from ancient history, mythology, religion, mysticism, and a kind of theoretical physics infused with sci-fi.

Nykoli graduated from University of Milwaukee-Peck School of the Arts in 2013 with an emphasis in painting and drawing, minoring in English. Since graduating, Nykoli has exhibited in and around Milwaukee including Wilson Center, Emerging Artist Exhibition, 2013. Var Gallery’s, 30x30x30 exhibition, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019. KSE Gallery, Kay Knight Continuum, 2018. Translucent: A Transgender Empowerment Exhibition, Union Art Gallery, Milwaukee WI, 2019. He was selected to participate in the 2017 MARN-Mentee program working under Jason S. Yi. Nykoli was commissioned to do a mural for Swanson Elementary in Brookfield WI, 2017. He curated Bodies: A Non-Figurative Exhibition at Var Gallery, September 2018. Nykoli has given talks to WPCA studio tours in 2018 and No Studios: Salon Series in 2019. Nykoli was selected by Wallpapered City and sponsored by Trip Savvy New York to create a mural for the NoMADmke Wauwatosa Mural Corridor in 2019. Nykoli has been at artist at Var Gallery since 2014. He worked as the communications manager and gallery assistant for Hawthorn Contemporary, Var West Gallery and Var Gallery from 2017-2019. Nykoli was one of seven finalist for the Mary Nohl grant Milwaukee in 2019. Nykoli is currently the Pfister Artist In Residence for the year 2020-2021.

My work anchors the visceral feelings of being in a Trans* body into a Queer mythic cosmology. Working through gender dysphoria, my work is rooted in the body, in the psyche, and a paralogical experience. The loss of figuration into abstraction parallels the discomfort or euphoria of losing ‘shape’ and existing in the liminal space of ‘other’ in terms of gender. Working under the cannon of ‘Trans* abstraction’,the visual language of mark-making takes precedence and metaphorically expresses the particularity of my lived experience in a non-normative gender; one which is neither ignored nor fetishized.

The return to figuration utilizes narrative as a way to create my own doctrine. Both autobiographical and research based, this series is influenced by my family’s cultural and religious history as well as the culture I grew up in. Influences of Ashkenazi Judaism (patrilineal), German Catholicism (matrilineal), Lutheranism (education), and the related ancient folklore, mythology and concepts emerge in my work. This lineage of white settler colonialism benefits me in my whiteness while erasing myself and others in our Queerness. Going through my own culture’s history and re-inserting Queerness validates my identity in the present which in turn grants space to imagine new futures for Trans* and Queer people.

Loosely inspired, I spin my own myths to reimagine a religion and culture where Trans* People are centered as Deities and G-d’s and Queerness is the norm. My story is told through the lives of these Trans* Deities. These ‘mythic’ beings have taken back their agency from the oppressive societal structures, structures which have worked to deny, gaslight, and erase Trans* and Queer people throughout history. Using the transformative magic of the Trans* G-d’s, Deities, and Spirits, I can perpetually rewrite my own truth and re-fabricate my very being. As the bodies within my paintings break the anatomical lines of their biology, they expose the ambiguity, complexity and myriad of rich history that is the Queered human experience.

Loki - Bound by Body
oil on panel
40 x 48”

Loki Bound is the first painting of two depicting Loki, the trickster god of Norse mythology. Loki has been adopted by some in the trans* community due to his shapeshifting abilities, transforming into many forms and beings, such as that of a salmon, a fly, an elderly woman and a mare-during which he gave birth to his son Sleipner, an eight legged horse. While playful and at times helpful, Loki is often depicted as a irreverent and nihilistic coward who cares only for shallow pleasures and self preservation.

This painting depicts the story of his presumed final days. After pissing off the gods, they eventually killed Loki’s son Narfi. Narfi’s entrails were used by the g-ds to tie Loki up. While bound, a poisonous snake was placed above Loki, the drips of which cause him to writhe in pain. His attempts to break free is the causation of earthquakes.

Being bound by biology that isn’t ones own is what drew me to the story. The binding, tucking, and trying to ‘break free’ of this ‘other-ed’ biology are daily occurrences. (Not every trans individual relates to this.) Societal ideas surrounding those who change appearance and/or transition as something to be feared and punished may have roots that go back to such stories.

The Shapes of Truths Told

Anika Kowalik is a multidisciplinary artist from Milwaukee, WI. Kowalik’s work provides an exploration of intangible dream-like spaces, bringing them into tangible space in the form of installations, object making, painting, drawing, and poetry. These spaces are brought into the physical world for those who have shared experiences within blackness. Kowalik believes Black people should have multiple forms of escapism— seeing that the reality of being Black is oversaturated with violence and suffering. Providing a space to be fantastic—that contains moments of comfort, joy, and infinite possibility are key principles for their work.

Black Bio Joy illuminates and amplifies a moment of bliss while displaying a physical timeline through stitching and layering of material. Leaving (literal) impressions and an essence of the experience behind.

Black Bio Joy
kanekalone, spray paint, beads, barrettes,
bubbles, glitter on fabric
42”x 42”

The Shapes of Truths Told

okja kwon is a multidisciplinary artist primarily recognized for their prints and collages of figurative forms. they communicate through intimate illustrative drawings and object making. kwon addresses the contemporary political and sociological issues of identity, multiculturalism, and the American ideal. they have shown artwork in exhibitions in state, national, and international galleries and educational institutions

My artwork is a gathering of softly rendered illustrations, depicting a culmination of imagined figures caught in a world of association and circumstance.

As a child, I was raised from infancy in a home with parents, and a broader community, who did not visually reflect my likeness. I began an emotional survivalist process of piecing together bits of experiences. Because of my limited ability to express my experiences verbally, I sought reference to the visual cues made available to me, which helped me translate the complexity of my confusion. I imagined realities to replicate an identity that mirrored those around me - images which would later be juxtaposed with a fragmented idea of “belongingness.” Subsequently, the places where I could see the most precise representation of my own life were through child adoption publications, animals, and the plant world. Today, this mimicry is still a form of coping, often in a state of aloneness, which facilitates an intricate familiarity. Portraits represent implied fragility act as the departure point for an exploration in which I, as the artist, and then the viewer, indulge in recrafting one’s understanding of reality. With a specified interest in the pendulums of power, innocence, and intuition, the intersecting truths of narratives are rewritten for the bodies of “the other,” in which one will most likely never meet in real-time or space.

I insist on documenting transculturalism through remembering the past and bringing those fragmented memories into the future. This intuitive and otherworldly bridge connects loss and joy that seeks to regenerate remedies to light the way.

The Value Was Tomorrow, So I Kept It For Now
graphite on Rives BFK
5 x 7”

As I Empty, There Is Nothing Collected
graphite and watercolor on Rives BFK
5 x 7”

I Will Hold Your Story Because I Am (am not) You
graphite on Rives BFK
5 x 7”

The Shapes of Truths Told

Fatima Laster is a self-taught interdisciplinary visual artist in Milwaukee, WI. Laster’s mixed media abstract and collaged artwork embeds themes of sexuality and racial and gender politics. The subject work, entitled Say Her Name is a wearable and performative extension of Laster’s 2-D socio-political mixed-media collage flags, made of multiple conjoined canvases, painted and arranged in a manner to allude to its subject matter (i.e. a stylized hoodie). Other topics of focus within this series of work include police brutality against Black women and the unequal reporting and coverage of these violations (demonstrated through Say Her Name and an older piece entitled Be My Voice); the inequitable application of constitutional protections to Black Americans; the lineage of slavery and slave capturing to modern-day prison labor and policing; America’s implementation of racism and its disposable use of indigenous peoples, African slaves and other immigrant nationalities to build its capitalist infrastructure; and housing discrimination and gentrification. Akin to the 2-D versions, the interior linings of the wearable capes are collaged with imagery of female police brutality victims, chain gang members, BLM protestors, Jim Crow signs, headlines, quotes, song lyrics, constitutional verses and more reflecting their respective subject matter. The paired Resistance performance brings that spirit to the capes.

Fatima Laster is also the owner-operator of the 5 Points Art Gallery + Studios, a new mixed-use art space in her childhood neighborhood on the north side of Milwaukee, WI. 5 Points Art Gallery + seeking proper Studios focuses on increased representation and collection of local, national, and international contemporary fine and outsider artwork produced by artists of color, in addition to serving as a hearth for exploration, collaboration, professional development, and business expansion in the visual, culinary, and varying art genres.

Say Her Name
Striped cape lined with collaged imagery
of black female victims of police brutality with starred hood.


Watch Fatima Laster’s Resistance video showcasing this and other wearable works of art.


(Photo from Fatima Laster's website.)

The Shapes of Truths Told

In my practice, the intersectionality of my identities acts as a departure point to play with the realities of diasporic life while exploring culture, history, place, ancestry, and experiences. These explorations manifest in a range of disciplines and materials shaped by the nature of each project: many of them socially engaged through the performance of culture and rooted in sharing and building community. My work navigates through history and humanity, developing a dialogue around oppositions: scarcity against abundance, trauma vs. joy. It is a conversation about the unknown effects the legacies of enslavement and colonization have on the cultural landscapes of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico.

La Piña Está/The Pineapple Is
video stills from performace, pineapple crown

La Piña Está/The Pineapple Is is a performance piece that blends a culturally specific saying, the Daisy Oracle (they loves me, they love me not) with a hint of absurdity within Puerto Rican culture. “La piña está agria” translates to “the pineapple is sour” but within the Puerto Rican community this saying expresses a precarious economical situation, things aren’t going well, and/or a weak economy. The Daisy Oracle is a game of chance in which the player alternately speaks the phrase “they (he or she) love me” and “they (he or she) love me not” while picking one petal off a flower each time they say a phrase. The goal of the game is to determine if the object of their fondness returns the sentiment--the last petal determines their fate. In La Piña Esta/The Pineapple Isthe crown of a pineapple acts as a flower to alternately wonder if the pineapple is sour or not sour if our situation is precarious or not. It is a game of chance in the colony where we demand for our collective existence to be dignified.


(Video stills from La Piña Está/The Pineapple Is performace)

We acknowledge that in Milwaukee we live and work on traditional Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee homelands along the southwest shores of Michigami, part of North America’s largest system of freshwater lakes, where the Milwaukee, Menominee, and Kinnickinnic rivers meet and the people of Wisconsin’s sovereign Anishinaabe, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Oneida, and Mohican nations remain present. 

We further acknowledge the grave evil colonialism introduced to these lands ​through genocide as well as slavery, and also via racist and xenophobic ​beliefs, laws​, and practices that continue to inflict harm upon Black, brown, and Indigenous lives. We honor those who have lived—and do live, now—at these intersections of identity and experience, and are committed to the active dismantling of white supremacy.

Read our statement on racial justice

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