The case of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, has exerted a morbid, tenacious influence on artists, writers, and true-crime enthusiasts ever since the would-be Hollywood actress’ mutilated, nude corpse was discovered in a vacant lot in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles on January 15, 1947. Ms. Short’s youth (she was 22), her dark-haired beauty, and the gruesome details of her death (her body, severed in two at the waist, was disfigured by numerous surgical incisions) helped make the Black Dahlia murder the most notorious unsolved crime in Los Angeles history, as well as the subject of several books and artworks.
“At first I just read the story,” says Oakland-based Hailey Ashcraft, who eventually made two videos about the Black Dahlia and went on to curate works by six other Bay Area and SoCal artists to create The Black Dahlia Show, a provocative group exhibition opening Thursday, January 6 at Oakland’s 21 Grand. “I was fascinated with this poor woman,” Ashcraft explains, “what she went through, being tortured and killed. It was a mixture of interest and repulsion. But I ended up focusing on Elizabeth. I see her as a Holly Golightly character — pathetic, naive, seeking fame, who fell short of her goal. If you don’t do something with that, then you’re left with it.” Ashcraft’s videos are Kaleidoscope, a looped piece in which she posed herself as the victim, then turned the images into a series of kaleidoscopic figures backed by hypnotic pop music (“I got the idea from a Fruitopia commercial”); and Number 9, which connects the Black Dahlia’s final moments with the Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9” and images of her dalliances with sailors, who nicknamed her after the film noir, The Blue Dahlia.
The other artists, many of whom were unfamiliar with the case before Ashcraft approached them, contributed paintings, photos, and videos. Each has his or her own reaction to the horrific crime. Opines Ashcraft, “It’s a springboard for our imaginations. People project onto that.” There’s a reception January 14, plus an evening of vids, readings, and performances January 21. Check TheBlackDahliaShow.com and 21Grand.org