Amid their own isolation and economic challenges, Phoenix-area artists continued to create works that inspired thoughtful consideration of the shifting cultural, social, and political landscape. A lot of it just happened outside or online this year. Here’s a look at 11 of our favorites.
Social Justice Murals
Phoenix artists have a long history of creating art exploring social justice themes, from immigration to indigenous rights. This year, several artists created work reflecting the struggle against police brutality and racial injustice. Six artists collaborated on a Black Lives Matter mural in Roosevelt Row, and Antoinette Cauley’s portrait of James Baldwin was installed on the Ten-O-One building. Murals featured portraits of George Floyd, Dion Johnson, Breonna Taylor, and others killed by law enforcement officers were painted as well, highlighting the ways art and activism are often intertwined during times of social upheaval.
'20/20: 20 Years of Eye Lounge'
The Eye Lounge artist collective celebrated 20 years of making and sharing work with a retrospective exhibition titled “20/20: 20 Years of Eye Lounge.” The collective is one of several art spaces that’s been influential in the growth of the Phoenix arts landscape. Nearly 150 artists have been part of the collective, including many who are considered the most accomplished contemporary artists working in Arizona. The “20/20” exhibit, which happened in October at Grant Street Studios, included works by more than 50 current and past members working in diverse mediums including ceramics, photography, painting, and more.
Using Scotch3M vinyl, artist Kristin Bauer created a series of text-based installations on storefront windows around town. She started at Practical Art, with poetic text reading “In This Way We Are Ever Connected,” and also installed pieces at Hazel & Violet and Desert Crafted. Later, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned pieces titled Untitled Gestures #4 and #5 for indoor and outdoor museum spaces, expanding the reach of this body of work designed to give visual presence to the “uncertainty and desires” of our time.
Artist-Made Face Masks
After COVID-19 set off a string of art-space closures in March, artists looked for new ways to share their work and replace lost income. Several began making masks, which helped to serve a community need while also giving them a platform for sharing their creativity. Some masks reflected the aesthetics of the artists' larger art practices, while others' designs shared messaging about the current political climate. Collectively, these pieces demonstrated the ways artists adapt to shifting societal conditions, and gave art lovers a new way to both support local makers and follow public health guidelines.
“Prayer for America”
Saskia Jorda bound 50 American flags to create the focal point for her “Prayer for America” exhibition, which opened at Walter Gallery in Scottsdale in November and continues through January 20, 2021. The flags serve as beads for a large-scale rosary-inspired installation that prompts reflection on the current political divide and hopes for moving forward. The exhibition also includes a white flag sewn with a single back strip that falls to the ground, conveying the collective grief of a nation wrestling with racism and mass COVID-19 casualties. Viewers are invited to write a wish for their fellow Americans on cards that become part of the exhibit, transforming the gallery into a space for quiet, respectful dialogue.
Good Trouble Bucket
Artists Gloria Martinez-Granados and Joan Baron collaborated on a performative piece titled Good Trouble Bucket, drawing inspiration from civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis. The artists called on their Mexican and Jewish heritage to create a multimedia installation (including food, ceramics, soil, and Martinez-Granados’ own immigration papers) that elucidated the trauma of physical borders while calling for increasing cultural understanding. The artists have continued to build on the project, and expect to share future iterations in additional settings soon.
Light Rail Plays
Rising Youth Theatre performed the latest iteration of its Light Rail Plays, which were first launched in Phoenix in 2014, in March. Several pairs of professional artists and youth acted out original five-minute plays at several Tempe Transit Center sites, incorporating theater, music, and dance as they engaged community members of all ages. Some viewers made plans to attend ahead of time, but others simply joined the growing crowd after stumbling on a theatrical experience that was wonderfully inventive and accessible.
A small artist collective called ArtFarm PHX, which was founded by ceramic artist Patricia Sannit, launched a project called Roadside Attraction with a July exhibition featuring works by more than 50 artists shown primarily in outdoor spaces. In November, ArtFarm presented Roadside Attraction 2.0: Now It’s Political. Today, they are working on a third iteration with a unity theme. Presented in partnership with Practical Art, the ongoing project offers a new way for artists and community members to interact amid COVID-19 concerns that have temporarily shuttered most traditional venues.
The Sagrado Galleria presented its fourth annual “Ancestral” exhibition at the Garden of Opportunity, an incubator urban farm located in south Phoenix. Artists and viewers converged on the creative space that’s home to family gardens and farmer’s markets for a night of visual art exhibited on easels amid a range of activities, including live music and displays by local artisans. The October exhibit highlighted the intersection of visual, performance, and culinary arts, while celebrating the rich diversity of Phoenix with authentic, spontaneous joy and collective power.
The Trumpocalypse billboard installed along Grand Avenue in March 2017 got a makeover in June, when artist Karen Fiorito replaced the image of Trump flanked by nuclear mushroom clouds and swastika-like dollar signs with a new red, white, and blue design meant to encourage voting in the November election. On the reverse side, Fiorito covered her unity-themed image with a design inspired by Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, which she titled Say Their Names. In December Fiorito installed a final image for the Trumocalypse side of the billboard: the soon-to-be-former president appears in an orange jumpsuit, behind bars.
More than a dozen artists explore themes related to politics and civic life in this group exhibition at Lisa Sette Gallery, which continues through January 2, 2021. It’s one of several exhibitions curated by Sette to reflect both the historical and contemporary landscape in America political, social, and cultural life. The "Blue" exhibit includes several artists based in metro Phoenix, including Alan Bur Johnson, Annie Lopez, Matt Magee, and Carrie Marill. Together, these pieces elevated key issues at the heart of contemporary life, from climate change to racism.
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