Last Friday was the Breaching the Margins exhibition at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The venue is part of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. UICA’s architecture is modern and thoughtful matching the artworks inside. The destination features diverse contemporary expressions from visual to performance art.
From UICA’s website: “Breaching the Margins is a juried exhibition of works by artists who examine ways in which marginalized groups navigate and work against social exclusion. Societies often attempt to deny marginalized groups of people avenues for social inclusion and space to articulate self-defined identities. However, art can be an active force that supersedes societal relegations, and a catalyst to give power to groups who were formerly powerless. The selected artists approach these ideas from various points of view, and offer dialogues regarding their rejection of marginalization.”
Out of over 500 submitted artworks, 33 artists were selected for the Breaching the Margins exhibit. Participating artists include: Oluwatobi Adewumi, Robin Adsit, Lea Bult, Scott Campbell, Larine Chung, Christopher Clark, Bux Dhyne, Rene Galvan, Jerrell Gibbs, Tiffani Glenn, Anne Gochenour, Elizabeth Ivy Hawkins, Nicolina Holt, Imo Imeh, Grace Kisa, Ryan Lewis, Jova Lynne, Monique Martin, Charles Mason III, Tiff Massey, Samantha Modder, Prinston Nnanna, Jamaal Peterman, Lora Robertson, Tylonn J. Sawyer, Paul Shortt, Nastassja Swift, Raelis Vasquez, Juliann Wang, Anthony Warnick, Chris Watts, David White, and myself.
Truth resonates in Jova Lynne’s A Cathartic Exercise in Rage (broken white ceramics) and Oluwatobi Adewumi’s Division (charcoal on paper). Lynne: “The piece is a sculptural work made of the leftovers from a participatory performance where I invited black folks into a red room filled with ‘white fragility’ (white ceramics). I asked participants to do whatever they wished with the material. ‘A Cathartic Exercise in Rage’ is a pile of over 200 pounds of white fragility…”
Anthony Warnick’s What to the Prisoner is the Fourth of July? (disassembled prisoner produced American flags) and Tiff Massey’s Ain’t No Future in your Front (wood and mirrored acrylic) reflect America’s history. Warnick: “An egregious example of a systemic and structural issue lies at the heart of the 13th Amendment. While this amendment outlaws slavery, the clause in the middle creates an exception – ‘as a punishment for crime.’ This clause constitutes a loophole, legalizing slavery to the state. This loophole is used in the later 19th century against recently emancipated slaves in state-sanctioned, convict leasing programs. And this practice has not disappeared in the following 100 years. Now for-profit companies own and profit from the labor of those incarcerated. Dismantling these structures is the breach needed to begin drawing those at the margins toward the center…”
My three pieces HEATHER HEYER, JAKELIN CAAL MAQUIN, and SANDRA BLAND (clear braille on polymer) were featured in the exhibit. HEATHER HEYER concept: Lady Justice is a symbol of impartiality in our judicial system. Standing stoically with a scale in one hand and a sword in the other, she is blindfolded representing that power, status, or money has no influence. A standard braille sign becomes repurposed by altering its function. The art serves as a memorial to how racist ideology and hate are an anti-democratic affront to humanity. Citizens must not blindly follow but question, organize, and demand the highest standards preserving truth and justice.
JAKELIN CAAL MAQUIN: The art serves as a memorial to the loss of innocent children seeking refuge in a country where diversity truly makes America great.
SANDRA BLAND: The art serves as a memorial to how privilege benefits some while persons of color continue to pay the ultimate price for sheer existence.
As a full-time artist for almost twenty years, the Breaching the Margins was one of the most meaningful exhibition highlights of my career. Art must speak to the human experience. Decorative lacks the depth for social change. UICA provokes change one artwork at a time.