Arts News: KC photographer Deanna Dikeman receives a Guggenheim Fellowship

Deanna Dikeman (Charlotte Street)

This image from Dikeman’s “Leaving and Waving” series was featured on the Block Artspace Project Wall in 2002-03. (from the artist)

In 1985 Deanna Dikeman left her corporate job to take photography classes at Purdue University, a leap in the dark that more than paid off. Dikeman was born in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1954 and now lives in Kansas City. She has received numerous awards over the decades for her photography, including the Aaron Siskind Foundation Fellowship, the United States Artists Booth Fellowship, and, this year, the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, which is given to established artists.

Dikeman has exhibited frequently in Kansas City, including her celebrated “Leaving and Waving” sequence of pictures she took of her parents for 27 years as they waved goodbye to her, in all kinds of weather, after her visits to their red ranch house in Sioux City. One of the images was shown on the Kansas City Art Institute’s Block Artspace Project Wall from 2002 to 2003, and the series has been featured in several local exhibitions.

Dikeman showed her inspired 2006 installation “Wardrobe” at the Society for Contemporary Photography. While working in a charity thrift store in Columbia, Missouri, she took panoramic photos of clothes, which she positioned side-by-side on racks, in a variety of colors and arrangements. For the exhibit, she wrapped her dramatic, yards-long installation along the walls of the gallery. It was a witty formalist exercise hinting at the excesses of American culture.

In 2018, KC Studio featured Dikeman’s “Sprinklers, Birdbaths and Puddles” series, a tribute of sorts to her late father, in our September/October Artist Pages. Other series have focused on lost pets, evocative domestic interiors and the pageantry of ballroom dancing.

In a recent interview, Dikeman acknowledged that the Guggenheim Fellowship is the culmination of worldwide acclaim for her “Leaving and Waving” photo series and book.

“I never set out to make this series,” she said in a recent interview. “I’ve always taken family portraits. I just happened to notice when I was looking through a group of those photos that there was a series of my parents waving to me as I drove away after visiting them.”

If people tell her that her parents look like the couple in Grant Wood’s painting “American Gothic,” Dikeman just laughs. “Well, they are from Iowa,” she says.

In 2009 there is a photo where for the first time her father is no longer there. She continued to take pictures of her mother waving goodbye until 2017. After her funeral that year, Dikeman says, “I took one more photograph of the empty driveway. For the first time in my life, no one was waving back to me.”

The response to Dikeman’s photographic chronicle has been viral. In 2020 “A Photographer’s Parents Wave Farewell” was one of the top 25 stories in The New Yorker, and the photos were reproduced in magazines around the world. Dikeman produced a book of the series, “Leaving and Waving,” which is now in its third printing.

“I really can’t believe it,” she says. “I’ve heard from people from all over the world. A fashion designer from Italy even sent me a couture outfit!

“The pandemic has clearly made people more sensitive to ‘Leaving and Waving,’” Dikeman says. The stories in her photographs are universal: They are about family, and ultimately about the pain of saying goodbye.

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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