Seven Louisville artists display work reflecting on social justice issues at Muhammad Ali Center
“We Don’t Wither,” a new exhibit at the Muhammad Ali Center, uses art to depict various social justice issues.
“We wanted to focus on hidden perspectives, things that weren't and aren't often heard or seen or known,” said Bess Goldy, senior manager of curation and interpretation at the Ali Center. “And the only way to do that is to let people be their authentic selves and to invite them into the space.”
The seven local, women artists featured in the exhibit were allowed to choose how and where in the gallery space their work was placed.
“They were able to paint walls if they wanted to, they were able to tell us exactly how they wanted things installed, what they wanted us to install, to install it,” said Amelia McGrath, a collections and exhibits associate at the Ali Center.
The Ali Center kept their statement about the exhibit short to allow for artists to have more space for their artistic statements.
“We wanted this to be a show all about the artists and not so much about the fact that they're at the center, just the fact that they are who they are, and they can do these amazing things,” McGrath said.
One of the featured artists, Shauntrice Martin said it was overwhelming at first to have so much freedom in creating the exhibit.
“I actually had all the pieces laid out, and I even made a little sketch with little cutouts of the paintings to put on there, and I kept moving them around. Once I had that laid out, it just kind of became clear,” Martin said.
Her section of the gallery, “The Gateway Collection,” focuses on Martin’s heritage and the roles racially marginalized women have played throughout history.
“It spans past, present and future of Black and Indigenous women in this country,” Martin said.
Martin’s collection includes three sculptures, one depicting Sarah Baartman. She was a woman from the Xhosa Kingdom in southern Africa whose body was exploited both in life and death. She died in 1815.
“I was grateful to be able to select pieces that really resonated with that topic with that question, and allowed me to experiment,” Martin said.
Despite the freedom artists were given, some common throughlines came through, like racism, misogyny and other forms of systemic oppression.
Artist Amadea Schenk’s pieces were inspired by real-life experiences she’s had dealing with misogyny.
“I have some found objects with gilded fingerprints, to kind of show like tools and art supplies and all kinds of things that have been physically taken out of my hands while I'm trying to learn a new process or make something,” Schenk said.
Another part of Schenk’s section includes two identical smiling mouths, one has “you should smile more written” above it while the other has “calm down.”
Schenk hopes the exhibit, with its wide range of artistic styles and mediums, shows the breadth of women’s art.
“The fact that all of our stuff is so different, but everyone's so talented,” Schenk said. “I just want people to know we're artists, we know that artists are cool and make cool stuff, but some people aren't art people. And they're like, ‘Oh, I didn't even know that was a thing’.”
“We Don’t Wither” will be on display at the Ali Center through December 18. As part of the exhibit, the Ali Center will host an Artists in Action series. Each artist featured in the exhibit will have a session where they are able to speak about the social justice issue that inspired their work.
Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.