The Kevin Cole exhibit, The place Do We Go From Right here?, which closes at MOCA GA on October 15, packs an enormous quantity of painful historical past right into a present that asks a painful query. It invitations the viewer to spend massive quantities of time on the lookout for historic data, however its level is way more fast, and pressing.
Voting has traditionally been made troublesome for African Individuals by varied technique of discouragement or exclusion. Along with obstacles to voting (amounting to impossibilities), the gerrymandering of legislative districts has normally diminished the voting energy of African Individuals particularly, even when its general impact is to drawback whichever political social gathering didn’t draw the district strains.
A case at present pending earlier than the Supreme Courtroom includes the legitimacy of the dilution of the illustration of the African American inhabitants via gerrymandering of Congressional districts, so the problem is greater than historic.
As a part of the 2021-22 Working Artists Venture, Cole has made quite a lot of new artworks that reply to those previous and current realities. They ask, pointedly, “The place will we go from right here?” with the reply: “It will depend on voters, and their entry to the poll.”
The primary piece Cole conceived for the present was All Tied Up in Politics, the Cowl Up, a seemingly summary wall piece through which tangles of steel actually cowl up a map displaying the 4 Georgia counties that, as Cole tells us in an interview with Greg Head, he and a few of his buddies determined have been probably the most closely gerrymandered.
Probably the most instantly didactic art work is Black to the Future, a sculpture the form and dimension of a mailbox, bearing the label “Poll Field.” It features a stack of leaflets inviting viewers’ responses to a few of the unanswerable questions that African American voters have been requested in previous a long time as a part of the “literacy check” required with a view to vote: “What number of bubbles in a bar of cleaning soap?” is considered one of them. (A smaller, companion ballot-box sculpture is titled How Many Blackeye Peas in a Bag.)
The remainder of the exhibition is equally highly effective and delivers an equally direct message by oblique means. The sequence Soiled South presents steel cutouts within the form of, and titled after, the states of Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas. Every sculpture is overlaid with irregularly formed patches of grime taken from every state, combined with steel shavings from the making of the sculpture. The grime apparently represents the districts which have been most spectacularly gerrymandered in every state.
The impression is strengthened by the other visible technique of the All Eyez on Us sequence through which steel tondos current the outlines of Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin as an empty house within the middle, punctuated by darkish patches representing probably the most egregiously gerrymandered districts. In Wisconsin, for instance, the gerrymandering is predicated on social gathering affiliation of all registered voters, however it additionally dilutes African American voting energy. It’s left to the viewers to do the web or print media search to seek out this background data.
This reliance on the viewers to do their very own analysis and evaluation is much more dominant within the Creating Obstacles sequence of steel banners, the place the depiction of state outlines and gerrymandered districts are accompanied by mottoes and by phrases referring to moments within the state’s racial historical past.
The Florida banner carries the title of a court docket case, “Shaw v. Reno,” the phrase “filibuster,” and the place title “Rosewood.” The phrases are a vivid shorthand for Florida’s racist historical past.
The court docket case concerned the impact of diluting African American voting energy via the construction of district strains and the usage of the filibuster in Congress to delay the passage of laws. Rosewood was a small, primarily African American, economically self-sufficient city that was worn out in a racially motivated bloodbath in 1923.
It’s left as much as the viewer to determine whether or not to search for this data independently, or to go away the phrases unexplained. Full comprehension of this present would require as a lot work as Cole put into the researching and making of it.
In different phrases, Cole places the first duty of understanding the present on the person viewer, simply as it’s left to the person voter to grasp what’s at stake within the all-important query posed by the present’s title.
In each circumstances, ignorance has penalties.
Dr. Jerry Cullum’s evaluations and essays have appeared in Artwork Papers journal, Uncooked Imaginative and prescient, Artwork in America, ARTnews, Worldwide Journal of African-American Artwork and lots of different fashionable and scholarly journals. In 2020 he was awarded the Rabkin Prize for his excellent contribution to arts journalism.