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BFA Graduating Artist Kelley Cunningham

Published March 21, 2017

Kelley Cunningham

installation title: Midnight in the Spook Shack

In my work, I explore the idea of placing the viewer in the mindset of both a victim and an aggressor, exploring the complex relationship American media has with violence, and how violence is often sexualized for comedy or entertainment. I examine how horror narratives have historically presented and exploited feminine attributes, eroticism, mental disorders, and gender-specific fears. I explore how gore in media is often a “guilty pleasure,” and how this manifests differently in oppressors and the oppressed. As horror movies typically attempt to put the viewer in the mind of the sufferer, I believe the house is essential in making consumers of this content uncomfortable. I create bright, glowing figures in dark, dimly lit scenes, to contrast warmth and comfort with unsettling imagery. This is also inspired by the act of viewing horror films in a familiar and comfortable setting.


I am interested in the campy quality of classic horror films, specifically from the 1970s-1990s, where the disturbing content is often offset with unrealistic characters, nudity, and exaggerated gore. Many of these feature prominent sexualized violence, with little to no sensitivity towards viewers who may be hurt by such imagery. I add unconventional materials, such as yarn, feathers, glitter, and even condoms, to chaotic, highly rendered paintings. By adding sculptural elements, in the same scale as the paintings, I hope to create a more playful and interactive experience, which will further contrast from the disturbing content. Through this, I hope to explore the idea of consuming and interacting with aggressive media, and the viewer’s personal contribution to a culture of violence. Ultimately, I hope to reclaim the historically oppressive content generated by the aforementioned media, giving myself a voice, by using a film genre that often shuts down and disrespects victims.