Curator Vikki Vassar assures me that the Just Winston-Salem Memes art show at Dye Pretty on First Friday — which also happens to be April Fool’s Day — is not a prank.

“I mean, how would we prank it?” she asks from her seat at the bar in the Silver Moon Saloon. “A bunch of people show up and there’s nothing there?”

Not a prank, but it still feels like one. The JWSM page began pre-panny, when the world was wide open: Downtown Winston-Salem was reaping the fruits of massive investment and development; a Confederate monument had just been torn down; and a guy calling himself Nightwatch had just become the city’s first real-life superhero.

Vassar says she doesn’t remember the first meme, just that she got bored, created the Facebook group and tagged a few friends. The memes started pouring in as the group grew to more than 4,000 members, occupying four moderators: Vasser, Jon Loer, Jerry Cooper and James Douglas [Disclosures: Cooper and Douglas work as freelancers for Triad City Beat; this article’s author is a member and has contributed three memes to the canon.]

“It was a straight-up accident,” she says.

Since then the page has documented and mocked every cultural touchpoint in Winston-Salem’s recent history — Bartsy, the renaming of the Dixie Classic Fair, Deactown, the stay-at-home uncle from “Jeopardy!” — with tangents on the city’s phallic skyline, Fam Brownlee, Brent Campbell, the Ardmore Neighborhood Facebook page, the proper pronunciation of “Buena Vista,” the redemptive power of cigarettes and more.

Delve through the wealth of material and you’ll find social commentary, political opinion, truth to power, the subversiveness of the longtime local. Enough Triad journalists regularly consult the page that a moderator once asked for a head count.

“It’s become like Ground Zero for gossip,” Vassar says.

With the popularity, the group has become more mainstream. For the gallery show, they’ve avoided the most controversial topics like the Dixie Classic, or Bartsy, a subject which became so hot that Vassar felt she had to leave the group for a several months.

And while there’s no money involved — literally none, the founders stress — there are opportunities. In June, the Winston-Salem Dash will host “Meme Night,” based on the Facebook group, with input from the moderators.

Now Vassar and Douglas sift through a stack of meme stickers they’ve made to publicize the show: the WS/FCS Breakfast Club, School of the Farts, drunk guy mansplaining the Reynolds Building.

For the show, they’ve selected just 10 memes from the hundreds, if not thousands, that have been posted on the page. Each meme has been printed on stretched, 11-by-14 canvas for display at Dye Pretty. They are not for sale.

“I made gallery tags for every single one of them,” she says, including its date of origin and creator, “like it’s an actual piece of art — which, really, it is. It’s just really fucking lowbrow.” There’s something of an alternate history here, a bit of the old Roman handwriting-on-the-wall, a vox populi, voice-of-the-people vibe. Vassar agrees that if Shakespeare were alive and working today, he’d be making memes.

“He’d be the biggest shitposter on the internet,” she says while Douglas nods his head.


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