With the country on the threshold of electing a new president, KC Studio devotes this issue’s “Artist Pages” to works that reflect some of the key issues and problems facing Americans today: race and inequality, LGBTQ rights, economic justice, immigration policy, global warming, the degradation of the environment, gun violence and police militarization.
Some of these works have a history: Sonie Joi Thompson-Ruffin’s quilt, The Price Has Already Been Paid (2015), was first shown in an exhibit titled “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” at the Portfolio Gallery in St. Louis, following the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Rusty Leffel’s photograph, Change the World, dates to a March 2015 Trump for President rally at Kansas City’s Midland Theatre.
Three works offer different takes on the fraught issue of immigration. Lara Shipley’s stop alto, from her “Coming, Going and Staying” series capturing the people and landscape of the southern Arizona borderlands, depicts the Mexican-U.S. border crossing in Lukeville, Arizona. Peregrine Honig titled her image, Anchor Babies, after the derisive term used by those who would deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants. “Aqui estamos . . .,” by Adolfo Martinez, is a portrait of his Mexican-born father and American-born mother, who was deported to Mexico during the Depression-era Mexican repatriation.
Harold Smith’s image is part of his The oKKKupy Series: Because Wall Street is the new KKK. As Smith explains on his website, “These works address the campaign of lies, distortions, materialism, corporate brainwashing, and anti-intellectualism that is waged against black Americans — and thus all Americans!”
The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art recently acquired Davin Watne’s Feel Secure, a meditation through multiple images on police militarization around the world. The romantic request, “Will You Marry Me,” emblazoned in gouache on paper in a 2008 work by Archie Scott Gobber, sounds a note of defiance in a culture in which some would deny others the right to marry the person they love.
It looks like sand, but chat, a mining byproduct captured in Sabrina Staires’ Chat Playground (2012), is laced with lead, cadmium and benzene. There are mountains of it around the abandoned lead and zinc mining town of Picher, Okla., which is now part of the “Tar Creek Superfund Site,” a 40-square-mile area deemed toxic due to leakage from flooded mines. For decades, generations of kids played in the chat. Staires’ image shows the remnants, she says, “of people recreationally using the toxic chat mountains for a bonfire pit and hanging out on an old couch.”
In addition to works by Kansas City-based artists, KC Studio is pleased to include Davis oil pad, near White Earth, North Dakota, June 6, 2011, by eminent Kansas City-born photographer Terry Evans, from her acclaimed series probing the contradictions of the oil boom in North Dakota.
As Evans explained, the Scott Davis family owns the surface rights of the land in the picture, while the oil company leases mineral underground rights, which means it can drill wherever it wants. The area shown in Evans’ photograph was previously unbroken prairie. “Drilling on this spot feels like a loss of a favorite place to the family,” Evans notes, “but two of Scott’s children work for the oil company whose jobs have made it possible for them to return home and build their own homes on the family land. . .
Evans’ work exemplifies the approach shared by this collection of artists, and their bid to provoke thought rather than judgments.