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Var 2nd Street





Opening reception: July 12th, 2024, 6-9 PM


"Our nation is born through our bodies, so how and when this nation is built is ours to decide.Decisions about access to abortion, birth control, hormone therapy, and IVF have no place in the state house. Our physical autonomy, identity, and personal freedoms are fundamental human rights.


Humor and joy are important activities in maintaining resilience. Vajazzle, as a form of sexual fetishism and a visual language, is inherently playful and irreverent. When packed densely together the crystals can appear armor-like — protective, yet celebratory. There is power in privacy and self-exploration, and healthy sexual expression should empower whomever is involved. In Capitol V, vajazzle becomes a symbol for freedom.


During the nine years I worked on this series, active erosion of federal protections for abortion led to the overturning of Roe, placing state governments in control of the very bodies that birth this nation. Returning to this project over the years has involved connecting with each state and thinking of the people I love living there as bizarre and restrictive state laws become part of their lives.


The series includes renderings of all 50 state capitol buildings as well as the capitol buildings of six inhabited US territories, patterned out of Swarovski Crystal. The portraits are scaled to one-tenth the height of the actual capitol buildings and hold between 150 and 2,800 crystals per pattern — nearly 60,000 crystals glimmering together. An embedded clitoris at the base of each of the capitol steps feminizes these often-domed capitol buildings, situating equity and pleasure in the halls of power.


The artworks are framed in layered shadow boxes, with each vajazzle appearing to float over an mage of a “virgin” landscape. These landscapes capture the natural beauty of each state and territory. The interplay of the structured patterns and the landscape images creates a dialogue between the manicured and the untamed, the governed and the wild. All images were scanned from postcards within the public domain from the Picture Collection at the New York City PublicLibrary Main Branch.


I feel it is imperative in this moment to draw focus to the layered relationships our bodies have with both federal and state governments. It inspired my choice to open this exhibition on the eve of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. I created Capitol V to draw focus to the negotiation of power between women’s bodies and state governments across our nation. It exists as a reminder that it is we who hold the power.


My body. My nation. My vote."

Niki Johnson is a Milwaukee based Artist, Curator and Executive Director of Forward Art Initiative. Raised in New Mexico, Johnson has spent her adult life living across the United States, including five-year stints in San Francisco, California, and Memphis, Tennessee. She received her BFA from the University of Memphis and MA/MFA degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Studio Art. For the past decade, Johnson has run her studio full-time, exhibiting her art and curating local and national exhibitions. Her artwork is in several private and public collections including the collection of Sara M. and Michelle Vance Waddell, the collection of Ken and Melinda Krei, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Madison Central Public Library, UW-Health’s American Center Hospital and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Reviews of Johnson’s artwork have been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, Hyperallergic, and Vice Magazine, amongst other national and international media sources.

“I make art addressing issues of identity and equity to challenge structural power systems affecting our lives today. As a feminist, I am invested in creating art that provides opportunity for viewers to reflect on their lived experiences, and hopefully reignite personal commitments to building a better, more just future. I am more keenly aware now more than ever of how fragile my personal freedom is, especially in light of the rise of fascism and conservative religious doctrine in public spaces across the United States. My vantage point is that of a person who sees herself as a full member in American society, who’s physical autonomy, identity and personal freedom are not up for debate. Through my art, I process both the disenchantment I have and hope I hold for this nation. I see art as my teacher and my voice. Most of the art I make is comprised of hundreds, if not thousands of pieces, and takes tens if not hundreds of hours to complete. I see each artwork as an evolution in thought, and the time when making as essential for a full synthesis of both the concept and material to happen. I build meaning in my work by combining my intention with the associated cultural values of the materials. Because I work with a wide array of (often found) materials, I regularly am scaffolding upon my training in sculpture and printmaking to learn new technologies to create my work.”

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