Note: This article mentions sexual assault and trauma.
Color Club Gallery, 4146 N. Elston Ave., was well-lit by the early evening sun May 18 as the audience gathered for Q & A event that was part of Hannah Sellers' (she/they) first solo art show, What Was She Wearing? The show, which took place May 15-20, featured artworks across several mediums, including hand-altered articles of clothing, photography, prints, and poetry.
Sellers' work explores complex topics, including the way clothes often play a part in sexual violence and trauma, as well as gender discovery and expression. They employ embroidery as a way to convey these ideas. With phrases like "What makes you think you have the right to the keys?" and "In my dreams, I forgive you," Sellers acknowledges that clothing can act as both an excuse for violence and a method to reclaim safety in the body after trauma.
Each piece is bold in one way or another—bold in its vibrant color, or in its accompanying poetry, or in its confrontational language, asking the question, why do we continually question and diminish victims of sexual violence?
Sellers studied graphic design in school. Their art practice is a continual and conscious effort to break away from the traditional purpose of graphic design to solve problems, functioning instead as a practice of exploration and play. They explained that in order to create art, they had to practice "setting down rules…to create safe spaces to explore my emotions. Play is still very much a huge part of my practice."
Designer Taylor Turnbull (she/her) moderated the session. The conversation touched on a number of topics, including where the name Sellers also goes by, Catdroool, originated from; how the pandemic impacted Sellers' art and design practices; how their gender and neurodivergence show up in their art; and radical safety.
Sellers also reflected on her time at her residency, actively working to decompartmentalize the multiple themes she explores in her work: her experience in Catholic school, her gender, surviving sexual violence, trauma, being neurodivergent and queer. She understood they were all connected, and What Was She Wearing? is the product of that exploration. She explained that expressing oneself through clothing helps to answer the question: "You can only control so much. How can I show up in the world to feel authentically myself?"
Chicago and its vibrant community is a major source of inspiration for Sellers: "[The city] just has what I was always looking for…you can always find inspiration when you need it, or community when you need it."
She and the gathered community members welcomed Elizabeth Moen, a singer-songwriter, into the space for an acoustic set. Moen's songs felt very much in conversation with the artworks hanging on the walls around her. Moen explained that one song, called "Synthetic Fabrics," is "about the body, and feeling [a sense of] safety and control."
The night's event was charged with a warm feeling of supportive care. Some people mentioned they were hesitant to come because the works dealt with heavy topics, but they ultimately ended up feeling seen and validated. Sellers explained that one of the most important goals for their show was creating a space where people could imagine "a joyous way out of the darkness."