Artists explore theme of resilience

By Sarah Weinman

The exhibition Breathe at COCA is a reminder that resilience comes in many forms.  Artists Rudy Zapf and Maria Ojascastro present a range of two- and three-dimensional works which focus on resilience. 

Rudy Zapf’s piece titled Drift is a small box, open to the front. Pearls and a three-dimensional wooden boat hang from the box’s “ceiling.” The artist painted an image of the ocean and sky on the back of the box and included real sand at the bottom. The piece is a beautiful metaphor for the artist’s mother who lived with Alzheimer’s for more than 12 years.  The pearls represent Zapf’s mother’s good deeds; the boat out of water refers to us drifting without our memories, without anything to support us.  This heartbreaking story reveals the necessary resilience of people caring for family members who don’t remember them. 

Boxes play a part in much of the artwork in the show.  This Little Piggy Went to the Market by Maria Ojascastro is a small green and black box, open to the front.  Inside, a pair of chopsticks support a book.  The front page of the book is painted with a black silhouette of a pig.  On top of the box perches a watch face with hands set to just after midnight.  This clock motif “represents living the life one would have chosen if circumstances were different,” explains the artist.  The image of the pig evokes Filipino celebrations, at which roasted pig dishes are served.  We demonstrate resilience in making the best of our choices and our lot in life.

Memory and choices come together in Zapf’s Ofrenda / I Remember Everything.  This large mixed-media piece measures 72” x 60” x 31” and involves audience participation.  Zapf constructed a tiered table with a distressed finish and little gabled altars: one includes a map and an oak tree’s pinwheel seed; another features an old photo of a couple on their wedding day and fake flowers below the picture.  Visitors are invited to take a blank strip of paper, write a memory on it, and pin it to an altar of their choice.  Which memory and which altar is most important to select?  Ofrenda becomes a receptacle of all memories, the collective memory of humankind.  This is a commentary on the resilience of memory: people and pets remain with us as long as we remember them.

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Breathe runs through Sept. 7.  COCA is located at 524 Trinity Avenue, near Kingsland. Gallery hours are Monday and Wednesday, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and closed Sunday. For more information, call 314-725-6555 or visit

 Sarah Weinman is from St. Louis and earned a master’s degree in art  history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She loves to plan trips and travel.  In her spare time she enjoys photography and writing, and she belongs to a weekly writers’ group. Her blog looks at visual arts in St. Louis, featuring whenever possible Jewish artists or themes.