Artists are no strangers to political activism. Through captivating installations, they’re able to visualize complex themes that resonate with movements and social causes.
This weekend, a new exhibit at the Luminary Center for the Arts, “America’s Mythic Time,” will take it to the next level with an unusual partner — ArchCity Defenders. But the collaboration isn’t really that far out.
The two organizations have worked together closely for years, co-sharing spaces and political expertise, such as when the Cherokee Street-based gallery hosted ArchCity’s Pro Se STL event. Their pro se guides are used to help people learn how to interact with police to represent themselves in court.
On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with guests about how social justice issues such as mass incarceration and debtors’ prisons and initiatives like Close the Workhouse can be translated in a way that reaches gallery visitors.
Z Gorley, ArchCity Defenders’ communications director, joined the conversation, as well as Kevin McCoy, one of the featured artists in “America's Mythic Time." He is part of the artist duo commonly known as WORK/PLAY, along with his wife Danielle.
Gorley shared an interpretation of the exhibit’s title, which references the intellectual Hortense Spillers' notion of “mythic time.”
“The idea behind [mythic time] is that we as a society have progressed to a point of racial equity, and I think that she challenges that we really haven’t,” Gorley said. “So these forms of racism and white supremacy that have played out since the inception of this country haunt us to this day very actively and painfully.”
McCoy shared his connection in dealing with these issues head on, referencing his cousin who’s been in jail for the past seven years.
“It makes it very real to you when you have a loved one that’s affected by this system. I still to this day don’t know what he’s in there for,” McCoy said. “But the purpose of my wife [and I] making this work is to bring exposure to people that are in these situations.”
He explained that his work in the exhibit incorporates documentation of ArchCity lawsuits against unjust bail. It also incorporates handwritten letters from his cousin currently in jail.
“I think it’s a more personal touch; and I had to make it very clear to him [that], ‘This is not about art; this is really me using your story to bring exposure to what you’re dealing with while you’re in jail.’ So … it is actually about the message and the people that are suffering from systemic oppression,” McCoy added.
“America’s Mythic Time” also features local and national artists Maria Gaspar, Kahlil Robert Irving, Jordan Weber, American Artist, and a range of St. Louis-based activists and organizers including Close the Workhouse and the Bail Project.
In addition to the visual installations, the exhibition will be extended through public programs developed by ArchCity Defenders, including "Booked: A Reading Library on Racism in Policing, Courts, and Jails"; a screening of Wade Gardner's documentary film “Marvin Booker Was Murdered” on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Luminary; and a public Close the Workhouse session at the Deaconess Foundation on Thursday, March 5.
“One of our hopes is that there can be opportunities for collaboration … that organically come from this,” Gorley added. “Hoping that people get engaged with these pieces; I read this quote somewhere that says something like, ‘You can see a piece of art for one minute, and it impacts you for your entire life.’
“Just really having those meaningful, visceral experiences, I think, is possible, not only when people will go to this exhibit, but long after.”
What: America's Mythic Time
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020
Where: The Luminary Center for the Arts (2701 Cherokee St. St. Louis, MO 63118)
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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