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Mia Zapata, a former Antioch College student, was the lead singer for the Seattle punk band The Gits until her death in 1993. An exhibition, "Mia Zapata: a place within," will be on display through Nov. 11 in Antioch College's Herndon Gallery. (Photo courtesy of Christine Sievanen)

Antioch College | Exhibition honors grunge legend Mia Zapata

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By Ely Lombardi

On Friday, Oct. 13, “Mia Zapata: a place within” — an exhibition showcasing the artistic accomplishments of the late grunge singer Mia Zapata — opened in Antioch College’s Herndon Gallery.

The event marked the first-ever retrospective centering Zapata’s visual art and the first time many of these pieces have been shown publicly since their creation in the late 1980s.

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Zapata is best known for being the lead singer and frontwoman of The Gits, before her death at the age of 27 in 1993. The band, which later opened for Nirvana and still enjoys a devoted fan base, was founded while Zapata and the other members were students at Antioch.

The Herndon event had a sizable turnout — one of the best showings for an opening at the gallery since before the pandemic — and attracted several notable guests, including Matt Dresdner, the bassist for The Gits; Jessie Leaman, a close personal friend of Zapata’s and fellow Antioch alumna who traveled from Massachusetts to attend; and the singer’s parents, Donna Zapata and Richard Zapata, the latter of whom attended alongside his current wife, Barbara Hood.

The show includes several paintings, prints and a sculpture produced by Zapata, who studied art at Antioch, interspersed with Gits memorabilia and performance photographs from the band’s time in Seattle. The exhibition was the brainchild of Michael Casselli, associate professor of sculpture and installation at Antioch and director of the Herndon Gallery.

Casselli, himself an Antioch alumnus, studied alongside and became close with Zapata and her bandmates, remaining in touch even after the band relocated to Washington and remaining friends with Zapata until her death. The idea of putting together an exhibition celebrating the achievements of his friend has been an aspiration of Casselli’s for over a decade and has actively been in the works since Casselli took the helm at the Herndon as interim director in late 2020.

“Mia Zapata: a place within,” an exhibition of the visual art of the late Mia Zapata, is currently on display at the Herndon Gallery at Antioch College through Nov. 11. Zapata was an Antioch College alumna and former frontwoman of grunge band The Gits. (Photo by Ely Lombardi)

 

Through Gits bassist Dresner and drummer Steve Moriarty, Casselli was able to get in contact with Zapata’s family in Louisville, Kentucky; the family ultimately agreed to lend the gallery Zapata’s artwork, some of which Casselli remembers from when they were both students together.

The fiery angst of Zapata’s music is on full display in the sweeping, expressive paintings that make up the bulk of the exhibition.

Donna Zapata recalled that her daughter “developed a distinctive vocabulary to express herself,” one that shines through in the collection of work and is especially impressive given that she had scant fine art experience before arriving at Antioch in 1984.

During her time as a student, Zapata drew a lot of influence from expressionist painters, such as Chaïm Soutine and Egon Schiele, made evident through the brash, dream-like emotionality of her work and her visceral use of color.

“Mia Zapata: a place within” will be on display through Nov. 11 and is viewable Thursdays–Saturdays, 1–4 p.m., or by special appointment. 

*Ely Lombardi is a student at Antioch College and the arts and culture correspondent for The Antioch Record.

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4 Responses to “Antioch College | Exhibition honors grunge legend Mia Zapata”

  1. Darrin Wood says:

    I remeber giving her free beers at the Knitting Factory.

  2. Christina says:

    My friend in Seattle knew her. We are in Chicago. Will there be video of the exhibit?

  3. Riki Bloom says:

    This really touched me, Michael Caselli, and all who made this show possible, more forms of Mia’s incredible artistry, taking shape, together at Antioch in this show,
    strengthening her legacy❤️

  4. Christine Knutson says:

    YES!!! Thank you for this article and for honoring the late Mia Zapata’s work. She was a legend to many of us in the underground music scene. I look forward to this exhibit—thank you Michael Casselli!

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