Kansas exhibit unites worlds of artistry and family into a big-hearted whole
“Dance & Conversations: Castings” by Pilar Agüero-Esparza (front) and “Testimony” by Jina Valentine are both part of the “Making It Work” exhibit currently on display at the Lawrence Arts Center. (Huascar Medina/Kansas Reflector)
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“Making It Work” is currently on display at the Lawrence Arts Center. The exhibit takes a deeper look into the generative processes of artists as parents and how familial bonds inform their work. The featured artists include Pilar Agüero-Esparza, Alberto Aguilar, Christa Donner, Lise Haller Baggesen, Cara Romero, and Jina Valentine.
The show “brings together six contemporary U.S. artists who are artists and parents who make that relationship visible in their work,” said Maria Velasco, a professor at the University of Kansas’ Department of Visual Art, along with being a mother and artist herself. “It is part of their dynamic, their conception and their making. So from that point of view, it is really unique. Because we’re used to having to choose between one or the other. The culture tells us that you must be one or the other. That if you are a good parent you can’t be a good artist and if you are a good artist you can’t be a parent. So you really have to challenge that belief. And still deal with the difficulties in existing in that kind of juncture.”
The show was co-curated by Velasco and Rachel Epp Buller, professor of visual arts and design at Bethel College.
When asked about the artists chosen, Velasco said that, “For us, from the beginning, the choice was based on what we call generative practices, which are ways in which we look at processes, collaboration, conversations, activities that may take place normally internally, in terms of the making of the work, but also with the existing community.
“We were looking at how those processes materialize into some kind of work. It’s not so much the old-fashioned way of making work, where you are thinking about an object on the wall that is self contained. This is looking at how we make work from a different platform to begin with.”
Featured artist Agüero-Esparza presents a wall installation with three-dimensional elements in acrylic and wood titled: “Multicultural Crayon: White, Apricot, Peach, Tan, Mahogany, Burnt Sienna, Sepia, Black — What Color Are You?” This piece converses with another piece, “Dance & Conversations: Castings” Both include casts of her daughter’s feet at different ages. At age 10, the conversation is about skin tone. The artist uses a crayon skin tone color palette to have discussions about race.
This conversation began with her daughter coming home after school, asking why people don’t identify with the peach color that most white people consider skin color. Agüero-Esparza also connects this work with her upbringing in Mexico. Her family had a shoe shop that made huaraches. The tint of the leather strands are represented in the base of the casted feet, dancing at age 17.
“Since an early age, she (Agüero-Esparza) has been involved in seeing and being a part of that process,” Velasco said. “That process is stripes of leather that are tinted in different forms and has carried that stylistic choice in her work. The story behind this work is intergenerational. A story she is having with her parents and her daughter. When you become a parent that lineage becomes so apparent.”
Donner’s interactive piece, “A Portal Is Opening,” is also an intergenerational work in which the viewer is projected into the future. It has a QR code and map that will send you to a spot in South Park by a bench, where you can listen to a letter that a child from 2226 telling us about extinction and species that have disappeared.
“This is a conversation on sustainability and how unaware we are of the damage that we are creating. The fact that our children will inherit that world and life doesn’t stop when we stop. Having kids makes that more obvious than ever.” Velasco said. “We are connecting with a child from the future. It makes obvious these political issues in a poetic way. The piece is narrated by the daughter of the artist. It is a way of collaborating with your kids.”
Velasco continued: “It is not just a sentimental or cute thing. You are having a conversation with a legitimate human being that is a small person, because of course, it’s cute because kids are cute, but that is not what the point is. But when you are engaged as a parent who is also an artist, and you are having conversations with your kids that are very serious like this one about race, sustainability or others.”
Another conversation presented in the show addresses racial violence against Black men. It’s titled “Testimony.”
Valentine was inspired by her inability to process the news about the shooting deaths of young Black men. The piece is difficult to absorb. It includes excerpts of news reports about the deaths of Black sons. You can only read a little bit at a time. In this work, Valentine used an ink that eats the paper away. Possibly she’s commenting about erasure, whitewashing, or an attempt to remove a reality that should not have taken place. Perhaps she is facilitating time being pressed forward, to a point where these stories may not exist.
Baggesens describes her work “Mothernism” as “a nomadic tent camp, audio installation and a book dedicated to staking out and making speakable the “mother-shaped hole in contemporary art discourse.”
In this created space, you can listen to music and read books that Baggesens has selected. The place projects a sense of sanctuary, contemplation and isolation all at once.
The familial bonds displayed throughout this show magnify the works of all these artists. Each one creates simultaneously as an artist and parent. There is no delineation in the work that has to be done and the conversations that need to be had. Creating art that addresses issues affecting both parents and children is not only good parenting, but important artistry. “Making it work” exemplifies the power of artists as parents with real profundity.
“Making It Work” will run until July 30. A curator’s INSIGHT Art Talk will occur July 28, at 7 p.m.. This will include a presentation of Epp Buller’s book “Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, Maternity” and the first local screening of Velasco’s award-winning documentary “All of Me: Artists+Mothers.”
A closing reception will be held July 29 at the Lawrence Arts Center from 5 to 9 p.m.
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