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Playful Art Delivers Powerful Message

A gigantic witch puppet—both imposing and comical—dominates a new exhibition at the Illinois State University that uses playfulness to explore activism and protest.  

Past and present activism runs through the latest works from Philadelphia-based artist Amy Cousins. Her show, "You Will Never Have the Comfort of Our Silence Again," is currently up through Oct. 8 at the University Galleries in Uptown Normal.

Cousins' work springs from rare protest ephemera and out-of-print feminist newspapers. In creating her new exhibition, Cousins looked within, but she also looked to the past and deep into archival material.

"I spent a lot of time digging around in archives in the William Way Community Center, an LGBT center in Philadelphia," Cousins explained. "And they have some really amazing things. I started looking at gay newspapers and radical newspapers that circulated during the gay liberation era of the 70s. I found some really exciting stuff and went from there."

Where Cousins went from that initial inspiration resulted in a large-scale sculpture of a witch puppet, that runs a little over 10 feet tall and has an impressive arm span, as well. The organization DYKETACTICS! was an activist group in the 70s that originally wielded a witch puppet to protest the death of an equal rights bill. The activists carried a banned that declared "You Will Never Have the Comfort of Our Silence Again" and had the witch cackle statements such as "I am the lesbian tapped inside every woman."

Although no photos of the puppet exist, Cousins used contemporary descriptions to create her own.

"I was struck by the playfulness and the boldness of this statement in the face of some real authoritarian violence at this protest. So I was fascinated by the witch puppet, and that lead me to create her in my own mind and what she stood for, spinning that stereotype of the lesbian witch spinster character and making her this goddess and queer monument. There's a subversive playfulness and there's also an implied teamwork and interaction. My puppet would need three people to carry it. That's all embedded in the form and the material."

In addition to her installations in the gallery, Cousins' exhibition includes a queer dance party, which she will host at the gallery on Saturday, Oct. 7, from 9-11 p.m. Cousins is scheduled to deliver an artist lecture at the gallery on Thursday, Oct. 5, at noon.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.