Ruminating on ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ at DAP’s ‘The Shrug Show’

Ever been asked to comment on an artwork, and all you gave back is a whole lot of not much? “Whatever” or “I dunno” is about all you can muster.

If the artwork in question happens to be in the current show at the Dorchester Art Project (DAP) space (1486 Dot Ave., second floor), organizers won’t mind. “Whatever” or “I dunno” is just the response that show organizers are expecting!

Through July 9, DAP is hosting ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  (The Shrug Show), an exhibition of new works by nine Boston-based artists in response to the cultural presence of the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ emoticon.

The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ emoticon combines symbols from multiple languages into a new universal icon suggesting a shrug. Because the emoticon incorporates characters from Japanese keyboards, creating the symbol requires downloading alphabets of various languages and then cutting and pasting. This popular figure, though, still lacks a universally agreed upon precise meaning with interpretations ranging from “bemused resignation” to “a Zen-like tool to accept the chaos of universe.”

The Shrug Show, inspired by this ambiguous icon, was not curated by resident DAP artists, but rather by a collective of artist friends with loose ties to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA). Point person for the project was Allison Cekala, a local documentary filmmaker who had previously exhibited in the Fields Corner space when it was known as the Howard Art Project.

Like all the other contributors, Cekala created never-before-seen work for the show. She scoured Youtube for video of all kinds of people shrugging, then looped and edited this found footage to create various effects.

Cekala and fellow organizers offer the following artspeak blurb, which may or may not clarify the artists’ many different interpretations of the enigmatic symbol: “The artists in this show attempt to deconstruct the plurality of meanings the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ emoticon suggests. Cody Justus and Aaron John Bourque’s interpretations of the readymade explore the nature of copyandpaste culture, and Christian Meade’s sculptural installation suggests an idealized past in lieu of a digital future. Julie Weaver and Mikey MacMahon use painting to discuss the commonality of cultural symbols. Allison Cekala and Tim McCool playfully mimic the emoticon while critiquing its ubiquity.

Samara Pearlstein’s and Gianna Stewart’s reproduced objects question the impossibility of originality in the digital world. Through various practices, each of these artists comes to deal with ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in their own way, while striving to understand its collective meaning.”

Last Friday’s well-attended opening had a playful atmosphere as guests tippled, ate cheeseballs, and roamed around the pop culture playground, chuckling over absurdly distorted objects and fiddling with faux commercial products.

One further newsnote: DAP has three exhibition spaces: the two white box galleries, which “The Shrug Show used, and a third performance area with a stage. For two evenings prior to the Shrug show’s official opening reception, the Theater Offensive’s True Colors teen troupe premiered their latest collaborative piece: “Through the Glory Hole and What We Found There,” “an immersive, in-your-face theatrical experience,” satirizing traditional psychologists like Freud while sharing personal narratives of LGBTQ+ identity and development. 

Gallery hours: Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., or by appointment. Info at


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