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ARTS AND HUMANITIES: An art exhibition focuses on democracy | Feature columns

Voices Made Visual is the name of the latest exhibition from the Aiken Center for the Arts. Opened last week and running through July 28, the show focuses on “the majesty and plurality of voices, past and present, that have shaped and continue to shape our national dialogue.”

How was this particular topic chosen? The answer is simple. The exhibit is designed to locally complement the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America” ​​which opens at the Aiken County Historical Museum on July 23.

Thematic exhibits can be random. You never know what kind of harvest will result from an open call for entries for any juried show, even one such as this, which offers over $1,000 in prizes. However, Caroline Gwinn, the centre’s executive director, was pleased with the region’s response, both in quantity and quality. Indeed, more than 40 submissions were received before the deadline.

Let’s take a look at some of the most notable pieces, which can be roughly divided into two categories: those that focus on the spirit of America by offering individual responses to some of our country’s enduring symbols, and those that highlight the evolving nature of our great democratic experiment.

In the first category, eagles appear in abundance. Since the appearance of the bald eagle on the Great Seal in 1782, this legendary bird has represented in the popular imagination “the land of the free and the fatherland of the brave”. The title of the imposing sewn felt eagle by Marie Thomasson refers to the multifaceted use of the bird: “Always a Symbol of…”

While Thomasson’s fabric sculpture of a perched bird reminds Americans of the need to always remain vigilant of the dangers, both external and internal, to our democracy, Josef Vincent Hathaway’s acrylic rendering titled “Eagle’s Cry” focuses on the sheer exuberance experienced by those who are truly free. His bird flies straight towards the viewer, a flag clutched in its talons. That this central figure is framed by the moon reminds us of America’s greatest achievement in space, the moon landing, and how high we can reach when we collectively aim for a seemingly impossible goal.

Flags are also ubiquitous in the current show. Noble Diller’s “O Say Can You See” makes a visual reference to the flag that inspired the composition of Francis Scott Key’s patriotic poem in 1814. Composed of 100 squares of canvas, the image of the 15-star flag is framed in black and brown on the right of indicate smoke from the nighttime bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor and framed in yellow on the left to depict how the flag continued to fly, despite all obstacles, in the “first light of the dawn”.

Another national symbol – in this case, the Statue of Liberty – is given a voice by Karen Santos. Her mixed media performance titled “Liberty Speaks” uses the iconic statue to comment on the universal cares and concerns of motherhood. Beneath the noble head of the female personification of freedom, the artist draped images of multi-ethnic women and children; around the copper crown float the words “Mighty Mother” and fragments of Emma Lazarus’ famous sonnet.

In keeping with the “welcome” that Lady Liberty offers to all who seek refuge on these shores, some twenty works in this exhibition refer to the struggles that many of our fellow citizens, in particular members of minority communities, have had to face. to make America. dream.

Emily McBurness’ pop art “Your Voice, Your Vote, Women’s Rights” features a smiling African American woman, her fingernails painted red, white and blue, voting. June Clement’s “Stand Up” depicts one of the large-scale protests held in the nation’s capital, such as the 2017 Women’s March, the largest one-day protest in US history.

At times, as Patrick Krohn argues in his black-and-white photograph, such mass gatherings can feel like “too much noise” – in this image two young people hold hands to their ears as protesters carry placards shout behind them – but there are times when the ballot offers insufficient remedy to right wrongs and all citizens have the right to take to the streets to make their voices heard.

As Keith Tolen, who served with Lauren Virgo as one of the exhibition’s two jurors, pointed out in his statement to all artists who participated in this exhibition: “The highest reward is to bring your work to the dialogue that helps move the conversation forward in our country. The artists in this show made their voices visible. It is the obligation of all citizens of our democratic republic to study the issues and make known their informed opinions.