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'She Bends' exhibit celebrates the way women are expanding neon as an art form

Museum of Glass exhibit will be lighting up Tacoma well into October of this year. #k5evening

TACOMA, Wash. — At the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, a new exhibit celebrates what women are doing with neon, taking the art form far beyond the greatest beer sign you've ever seen hanging in a bar.

"Our pursuit is magical in nature," said artist Meryl Pataky, curator of "She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy." "We're creating energy. We're creating light."

Pataky is also co-founder of "She Bends," a collective made up of female-identifying neon artists in a traditionally male-dominated art form. Pataky says she's not just creating light, but deciding what to shed that light upon.

"I think that's the root of neon art in general," she said. "I mean calling attention to something, shedding light on something with a come hither vibe."

Pataky's conceptual piece. "A Modern Guilt" bathes its viewers in a golden orange glow with a large message that reads "REPENT." Everything here is just off enough to be unsettling.

"It's a period of evolution in my journey into motherhood and all of my anxieties around the climate crisis," she said. "So 'Repent' is a call for existential change."

Credit: KING TV
'tend to grow (watermelons)' is a conceptual piece by artist Jude Abu Zaineh.

Most of the works here may seen friendly at first. A wall full of neon watermelons may make you smile but artist Jude Abu Zaineh, inspired by her Palestinian heritage, is calling back to a time when her state's flag was banned in the region.

"The watermelon stepped foot into the picture as a substitute for the Palestinian flag because of its colors," she said. "So I really wanted to play with this idea or analogy, this juxtaposition of this very light whimsical image with a darker history or narrative behind it."

A piece called "Comforter" looks more like a a chain link fence than a blanket

And "Echo," made with spools and spools of VHS tape, asks who has the power to own our data.

Neon, a gas born in the cosmos, has been tamed, energized, and rehomed into tubes by a new group of artists with something enlightening to say.

"We're not just making signs, neon signs," Pataky said. "It's an art form and it's a way of being."

The exhibit "She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy" will be at the Museum of Glass well into October, 2023.

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