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Art Exhibit Explores Activism Through Printmaking

December 13, 2009

On Friday, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts kicked off the opening of a new exhibit entitled, “(S)edition: Prints as Activism.” The show features 70 different pieces from 54 different artists. I spoke with Brett Colley, the exhibit’s lead curator, on Friday night to find out a bit about the show and its theme.

First, I asked Brett why this theme and why now? He said that individual artists have submitted similar proposals over the past eight years, but most were not strong enough alone. “The Bush years provided lots of creative material. Throughout his administration we saw many of the same  themes now evident in this exhibit.” Brett also said that printmaking has its own history as an instrument of medium democracy. “This exhibit is foremost an educational forum, which is somewhat different than exhibits one might normally see at the UICA.”

When asked about the themes that were explored in this show Brett felt that there were three major themes; militarism & conflict, national identity and environmentalism. He said he was somewhat surprised that there wasn’t more seditious works that were submitted. Colley thought that there might be more submissions that would deal with themes like daily repression and government repression. He was also surprised that there were not more pieces that dealt with the daily resistance to these types of repression, even something as simple as “riding a bike.”

In addition Colley, a volunteer member of the UICA’s visual arts committee, noted that the vast majority of prints were presented in a traditional art format, framed and hung on a wall. “Even though many pieces deal with social and political themes, they are still presented as a commodity.” There were a few submissions that were unconventional, where the public could take items that were created or in one case people were encouraged to use the materials in the submitted piece to make their own art.

I asked Brett if he thought that there would be a change in how political art would be produced in the US during the transition from the Bush years to the Obama years. He felt that some themes like military conflict are never ending, but what is different is that the rhetoric during the Bush years was very direct, whereas so far on the Obama administration it is “harder to reconcile rhetoric and action.”

During the opening night there was an opportunity for people to hear from a few of the artists about their work. Eric Garcia, an artist from Chicago, submitted a piece called Collision. Garcia said his piece dealt with how things can collide historically, politically and culturally. He said, “the symbol of an eagle has been used by many empires,” but he also felt that his piece grapples with how cultural icons collide, especially in the age of globalization.

The other artist who spoke about her work was Alynn Guerra. Guerra first spoke about why printmaking as a medium was important to her. “I can give them away easily or sell them for very little. Printmaking gives me lots of options of how to express myself.” Her submission for this exhibit was prints that were all over the floor throughout the space. The prints were representations of landmines that are all over the world where ever military conflicts have occurred in the past century. Guerra said this submission was originally part of an early exhibit that dealt with the US war in Iraq, but it is a theme that continues even six years after the beginning of that war.

“People can pick up these prints and think about what happens to real people when they come in contact with landmines. People might lose a limb or their lives.” Guerra also said that whatever donations she gets from this prints she will donate to a local group called Healing Children of Conflict, a group that will assist children who have been wounded in military conflicts that the US is directly involved in.

(S)edition: Prints as Activism” is running at the UICA from now until March 5.

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