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“Making It Work” can currently be seen in the Lawrence Arts Center. The exhibition takes a deeper look at the generative processes of artists as parents and how family ties influence their work. the fWell-known artists include Pilar Aguero-Esparza, Alberto Aguilar, Christa Doner, Lise Haller Baggesen, Cara Romeroand Jina Valentin.
The show “brings together six contemporary US artists who are artists and parents who visualize this relationship in their work,” it says Maria Velasco, Professor at the University of Kansas Fine Arts Departmentshe is also a mother and an artist herself. “It’s part of their dynamic, their conception and their creation. So from that point of view it’s really unique. Because we are used to having to choose between one or the other. Culture tells us you have to be one or the other. That if you’re a good parent, you can’t be a good artist, and if you’re a good artist, you can’t be a parent. So you really have to question that belief. And still cope with the difficulties of existing in such a situation.”
The show was co-curated by Velasco and Rachel Epp Buller, Professor of Fine Art and Design Bethel College.
When asked about the chosen artists, Velasco said: “For us, the choice was based from the beginning on what we call generative practices, which is a way we look at processes, collaborations, conversations and activities that usually take place internally, in relation to the genesis of the work, but also with the existing community.
“We looked at how these processes materialize into a kind of work. It’s less the old-fashioned way of thinking about a standalone object on the wall. Here we look at how we work from another platform first.”
Featured Artist Aguero Esparza presented a wall installation featuring three-dimensional acrylic and wood elements entitled: “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 contain casts of their daughter’s feet at different ages. At age 10, the conversation turns to skin tone. The artist uses a crayon skin tone color palette to encourage discussions of race.
This conversation started with her daughter coming home after school and asking why people don’t identify with the color of peach, which most white people consider skin color. Aguero-Esparza also connects this work with her upbringing in Mexico. Her family had a shoe shop that manufactured Huarachen. The tint of the leather strands is depicted in the base of the cast feet dancing at age 17.
“Since her earliest childhood she (Aguero-Esparza) was involved in seeing this process and being a part of it,” Velasco said. “Composed of strips of leather that are tinted in various shapes, this process has carried this stylistic choice into her work. The story behind this work spans generations. A story she has with her parents and daughter. When you become parents, that lineage becomes so obvious.”
Donner’s interactive work “A Portal Is Opening” is also an intergenerational work in which the viewer is projected into the future. It has a QR code and a card that you send to a location in South Park at a bank where you can listen to a letter a child from 2226 tells us about extinction and disappearing species.
“This is a conversation about sustainability and how little we are aware of the harm we are causing. The fact that our children will inherit this world and this life does not stop when we stop. Having kids makes that more obvious than ever,” Velasco said. “We connect with a child from the future. It makes these political issues clear in a poetic way. The play is narrated by the artist’s daughter. It’s a way to work collaboratively with your kids.”
Velasco continued, “It’s not just a sentimental or cute thing. You’re having a conversation with a legitimate human who’s a little person because of course it’s cute because kids are cute but that’s not the point. But when you get involved as a parent who’s also an artist, and you have conversations with your kids that are very serious, like this one about race, sustainability, or anything else.”
Another conversation featured on the show deals with racial violence against Black men. It is titled “Evidence”.
Valentine was inspired by her inability to process the news of the shooting of young black men. The piece is difficult to absorb. It contains excerpts from news reports about the deaths of black sons. You can only read a little at a time. In this work, Valentine used an ink that erodes the paper. She may be commenting on erasure, whitewashing, or trying to undo a reality that shouldn’t have happened. Perhaps she facilitates time being pushed forward to a point where those stories may no longer exist.
Baggesens describes her work “Mothernism” as “a nomadic tent camp, an audio installation and a book devoted to delineating and making the “maternal hole in contemporary art discourse” verbal.
In this created space you can listen to music and read books selected by Baggesens. The place conveys a sense of refuge, contemplation and isolation at the same time.
The family ties displayed during this exhibition enhance the works of all these artists. Everyone creates as an artist and as a parent at the same time. There is no description of the work that needs to be done and the conversations that need to be had. Creating art that addresses issues that affect both parents and children is not only good parenting, it is also an important artistry. Making it work illustrates the power of artists as parents with real depth.
Making It Work runs through July 30th. An INSIGHT Art Talk by a curator will take place on July 28 at 7 p.m. This includes a presentation of Epp Buller’s book “Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, Motherhood” and the first local screening of Velasco’s award-winning documentary “All by me: artists + mothers.”
A graduation reception will be held on July 29 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Lawrence Arts Center
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