World-Renowned Artists Talk Voting Rights

ArtsWestchester’s bold exhibit 'Give Us the Vote' investigates the current state of voting rights in America through works by 19 world-renowned artists.


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photo by Lisa Predko

Artist Michele Pred models her Vote handbag.

While the suffrage movement may seem like ancient history, one local gallery is working hard to remind people of its relevance. “The fight for suffrage is ongoing, as it is a word generally used for the right to vote,” explains Kathleen Reckling, curator of ArtsWestchester’s new exhibition, Give Us the Vote. “With recent Supreme Court cases around gerrymandering, as well as other cases that have undone parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, suffrage is a highly relevant topic.”

On show at ArtsWeschester’s White Plains gallery through January 27, Give Us the Vote presents a frank look at the current state of voting rights in America through the works of some of the art world’s biggest stars. Heavy hitters like New York City art darling Zoe Buckman will have works exhibited alongside Nyack-based collagist Johanna Goodman and celebrated Brooklyn sculptor Tom Fruin. A total of 19 artists, of both local and national stature, will have a total of 30 works on show.

Also of note is ArtsWestchester’s own contribution to the work of these notable artists by commissioning 25 of the 30 pieces on show. “This is something to be very excited about, when an organization like ArtsWestchester gets to provide resources for artists to work,” says Reckling. “Plus, most of these artists already have some background working at the intersection of art and politics.”

photo by Howard Goodman

Carla Rae Johnson’s voting booth, inspired by Fannie Lou Hamer.

One such artist is Johanna Goodman, whose paintings and collages have graced the covers of TIME and Rolling Stone, as well as the pages of the Wall Street Journal. “For our show, Johanna is creating portraits of imaginary beings with bodies composed of photo-collage, including images of a draped American flag and women’s suffrage marches,” notes Reckling. “Her imaginary beings are anonymous women, so they are kind of a tribute to all the individuals who have worked over time to bring about these landmark changes in our democracy.”

According to Goodman, this series of nameless women was largely inspired by current events. “The political climate changing over the last year had me venturing into more political imagery,” shares Goodman. “I feel like I am witnessing for the first time people feeling that they need to take power into their own hands, rather than trusting elected officials and others to do the work for them. It is the first time I have really seen serious grassroots work being done.”

And despite their connection to contemporary political issues, Goodman hopes these imaginary beings extend beyond any single era. “I really love the way taking some old imagery and putting it in with new stuff works and sort of universalizes the person in the picture and the environment that they’re in,” she says.

 Zoe Buckman’s billboard Grab 'Em by the Ballots.

Goodman is not the only artist touching on such overarching issues. According to Reckling, much of the artwork in Give Us the Vote is centered upon the way suffrage movements echo into the present day. “A lot of the works are directly engaging with The Women’s March this past January and movements like Black Lives Matter,” says Reckling. “You can’t really talk about the right to vote and being involved with the democratic process and ignore all of these other things that are going on.”

This doesn’t mean that all the works in the exhibition are simply meant to further left-wing politics or glamorize resistance movements. “One of the pieces by Zoe Buckman, titled Grab ’Em by the Ballots, was actually designed as a billboard for the 2016 election,” adds Reckling. “So, while the work isn’t supporting a particular candidate or an outcome and is not inherently Republican or Democrat, it’s definitely not removed from contemporary politics.”

Tom Fruin’s sculptural work elucidates many of the issues surrounding voting rights in a similarly nonpartisan way. “Fruin’s American flags are meant to mimic the curtains that used to be on voting booths and are supposed to represent the semblance of privacy in our voting process,” says Reckling. “The perforations in each flag reference the recent Russian hacking and how things like this, as well as interference in vote-casting, deteriorates the strength of our democracy.”

courtesy of Johanna Goodman

Johanna Goodman’s The Catalog of Imaginary Beings, Plate No. 247.

This theme of voting rights, an increasingly hot topic as the midterm elections draw near, was a natural subject for ArtsWestchester’s newest show. “The exhibitions that we do at ArtsWestchester are thematic and strive to respond to or come from issues that are impacting the community,” says Reckling. “We are trying to carve out our gallery as a space for community engagement and for really meaningful conversations in which art is the catalyst.”

For Goodman, the exhibition is, above all, a way for people to connect not only with art but also with each other. “I hope, at least where my work is concerned, that visitors feel some kind of empowerment,” she says. “I hope people feel that they are not alone, and that there are more of us out there with resolve.”

 

 

 

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