Artists are laborers, too.
That’s one of the themes behind “Art is Labor,” a gallery show that combines visual art with labor activism. It can be seen through Jan. 17 at Arcade Contemporary Art Projects Gallery at Webster University’s Gateway Campus in downtown St. Louis.
Curator Dail Chambers combined recent work by St. Louis-based artists with historic photographs and other memorabilia related to the labor and civil rights movements, plus a few pieces by artists who are known for their social-realist work, including Ben Shahn and Thomas Hart Benton.
“I was interested in looking at artists, locally, who are consistently tackling labor issues in their regular studio practice,” said Chambers, an artist, activist and education artist with Bread & Roses Missouri.
The show was organized by Bread & Roses, a group that examines workers' issues through the arts. It recently premiered a play about famed labor activist Eugene V. Debs, and will present its third “Workers' Opera” in January.
“I was deeply inspired to develop a conversation between contemporary artists and the ephemera that is in the exhibition,” Chambers said. “And see what that conversation about labor would look like publicly, if we paired archive and if we paired conceptual work together.”
The historical materials include photographs of strikes and political protests, newspaper clippings and letters from St. Louis-based Falstaff Brewing Corp. to Ebony magazine requesting marketing information about the city's black population.
The artwork includes painting, mixed-media installations, photos, quilts and a sound installation. Participating artists include Sarah Paulsen, Benjamin Gomez, Treasure Shields Redmond, Shilpa Rao, Basil Kincaid, Jen Everett, Dejoneiro Jones, Sukanya Mani and Chambers.
“Very often people don’t recognize that the work and the time and the effort and the creativity that artists put into their work is actually labor. And we wanted to show that aspect of it,” said Joan Suarez, Bread & Roses’ director.
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