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Press Release

An evocative exhibition by artist Meg Lionel Murphy at MOWA | DTN explores trauma and triumph

Exhibition January 12, 2024

(MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN) Museum of Wisconsin Art presents “Ecstasy and Escape at the Swan Song Motel,” an evocative exhibition by artist Meg Lionel Murphy. This highly personal display, exploring personal growth and liberation from intimate partner violence against women, will be on view from January 19 to April 7.

Meg Lionel Murphy draws inspiration from her family-owned motel in rural Wisconsin, thoughtfully transforming MOWA | DTN into the “Swan Song Motel”—a poignant setting serving as a refuge for women escaping domestic abuse. The exhibition unfolds as a powerful narrative, reflecting Murphy’s personal experiences with pain and trauma.

In her mesmerizing works, giant female figures emerge as warriors, donned in armor and wielding swords. In control of their bodies and lives, these figures become guardians, protecting themselves and one another. The exhibition traces their journey as they gradually outgrow the refuge, symbolizing resilience and triumph over adversity.

Murphy, known for her background as a children’s book illustrator, infuses heavy themes with a touch of whimsy. The vibrant color palette, intricately detailed imagery, and subverted Catholic symbolism create an imaginative sanctuary within the installation—a realm of healing and hope.

The emotional narrative extends beyond painted canvases to include real objects such as furniture, toys, and trinkets. Ranging from intimate to colossal scale, the dynamic installation conjures lived memories, oscillating between childhood innocence and the lingering pains of adulthood.

Meg Lionel Murphy received degrees in Art, Art History, and English Literature from the University of Minnesota and studied painting in Florence, Italy. As a co-founder of Paper Darts, an art and literary magazine, she has made significant contributions to the artistic and literary community. “Ecstasy and Escape at the Swan Song Motel” is Murphy’s first solo museum show and holds particular significance as her last before motherhood—a swan song where themes of pregnancy delicately emerge amidst horror and the euphoria of escape.

The exhibition “Ecstasy and Escape at the Swan Song Motel” is open to the public at MOWA | DTN, the museum’s satellite location inside Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. The Opening Party is scheduled for January 19, in conjunction with Gallery Night in Milwaukee.

Image credit: Meg Lionel Murphy,Vacancy, 2023