Art during wartime

By - Nov 1st, 2006 02:52 pm
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By Amy Elliott + Illustrations for Terror Chic by Joy Harmon (top) and Kristopher Pollard (bottom)

In 1932, Betty Gow was accused of a playing role in the now infamous kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. The Scottish nursemaid was never tried, though conspiracy theories about her involvement persist.

Seventy-four years later, the incorrigible Ms. Gow is back – in Milwaukee, organizing her creatively inclined friends for Terror Chic 11/9, a showcase of art, fashion, and music in response to life during wartime.

The show – and the alias – is the brainchild of teacher, writer, artist and all-around jetsetter Terisa Folaron. Recently returned from a year and a half abroad in Southeast Asia, she’s back in the “experimental swing of things” – first with The Dystopia Project this past October, an artistic response to the internment of artists and composers during the Holocaust – and now with Terror Chic.

“Art offers a very personal and direct response to these events,” Folaron says. “[Other mediums] are not as accessible, or immediate, or intimate.”

True as that may be, the years following 9/11 and the declaration of war on terrorism have made us all ask how much is too much, how soon too soon. Folaron’s research led her to reports that even fashion designers had backed off previously prevalent camouflage, epaulets and Maoist color schemes to avoid inflaming the sensitivities of a society suffering from post-traumatic stress.

In direct retaliation to that, Terror Chic aims to cast a spotlight on the connection between art and war. It’s about creating at full tilt. Every piece of art, music and design was commissioned specifically for the show, and Folaron hopes that the event will give artists the chance to network, collaborate and start a conversation she feels has been tacit.

“I approached an artist friend one day and asked, How has the war on terrorism changed your art? His response? ‘That’s right. I forgot we are at war,’” she says. “I laughed, until I received similar responses from other artists.”

So what should we expect at the Hide House on 11/9? A somber Cold War vibe and tongue-in-cheek haute couture? Probably some combination thereof, as Terror Chic explores a range of perspectives on the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from unabashed anger to dogged support. It also spans a range of musical styles, from the “happy hardcore” of Juniper Tar to the cello experimentation of Janet Schiff. Participating musicians contributed to a Terror 11.9 compilation CD, mastered by Ben Derickson of Zod Records and available exclusively at the event.

Then there’s the art: photographs by Emma Freeman and Amanda Rose, pixel art by Craig Robinson, prints by Dwellephant, Matt Cipov and Joy Harmon, among contributions from many other highly regarded artists. Artwork will be for sale and buyers and collectors are encouraged to make an appearance.

And have we stressed that there’s a catwalk? More specifically, that a fashion show will take place on the catwalk, featuring area designers, models and stylists – all, too, inspired by the current military campaigns

Betty Gow and her fellow artists have explored every possible angle in the examination of the current war and its role in our culture. And even above that, Gow hopes Terror Chic will testify to the vitality of art in the city.

“Milwaukee has been experiencing an art drain for years,” Folaron says. “Artists and musicians who receive their education here in Milwaukee soon after take flight to other cities.” She hopes that the challenging, eclectic spirit of Terror Chic will give artists one more reason to stay in Milwaukee and create.

If you are still wondering, five years later, whether irony is really dead – if the movies United 93 and World Trade Center didn’t convince you that we’re really ready to address this war thoughtfully, smartly and with sensitivity – put on some dog tags and come meet Betty Gow, a wrongfully accused foreign national living in a country in conflict. She has a lot to say, and a lot of talent with which to say it. VS

Betty Gow’s Terror Chic 11/9 happens at The Hide House, 2625 S. Greeley St., on November 9 from 7 to 10 pm. Cost is $6. For more information and a full list of participating artists and musicians, visit or email

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