Art4Equality x Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness
Words By: Chloe Olewitz
Collective understanding of our purportedly unalienable rights has blanched under the spotlight of a nation that has consistently and selectively alienated them. This week, a new group exhibition titled “Art4Equality x Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness” will display artists’ responses to those powerful words and the turbulent state of our body politic with works hanging in Tribeca gallery The Untitled Space and on billboards in the streets of New York City.
After an overwhelming response to the original open call, curator Indira Cesarine expanded the exhibit’s initial plans to ultimately include photographs, paintings, drawings, sculptures, and video works by over 50 artists. It’s safe to say artists in every medium have had plenty to reflect on over the past six months. The global pandemic simultaneously shattered the existence we once trusted as normal and turned up the spotlight on engrained systemic social injustice and racial inequity in this country.
“With the 2020 elections approaching,” writes Cesarine in her curatorial statement, “I felt that it was a crucial time to create an opportunity for artists to respond, with the artwork presented in a public platform where it can reach an audience of millions of people every day and promote an inclusive dialogue.”
The works on display offer far-ranging reactions to the present moment. From striking representations of Black and Brown bodies in pain, power, and joy, to medical scenes that capture the bleak reality and hopeful intimacy of our new masked normal, the exhibition stands as a sort of visual record of the anxieties and dreams that underpin the turbulence of 2020. Monuments to patriotism and democracy, like the American flag and the Statue of Liberty, are recurring themes throughout the exhibit, complemented by messages touting the valor of love and the power of the ballot box.
“There is so much going on in the media across the world,” says Ashley Chew, whose public art piece, Just Checking In, is a reflection on mental health. “It is almost an act of rebellion to be happy right now.” To Chew, the exhibition title’s nod to the Declaration of Independence means “strength and rebellion, no matter what.”
In addition to the exhibit’s gallery works, ten public billboards unveiled throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens this week will remain on display through October 21. This purposefully accessible element of the exhibit highlights The Untitled Space’s collaborations with SaveArtSpace and Art4Equality. SaveArtSpace is a Brooklyn-based non-profit focusing on nationwide progressive and social change-minded public art installations, and Art4Equality seeks to support and promote equality-themed art by underrepresented and marginalized artists.
Because billboards are typically employed as advertising space, transforming them into art installations that seek to reveal truth and spread impact is a powerful reclamation of public space in a city with a tendency to choke on its capitalist appeal. Despite countless essays declaring New York dead, plenty of tried and true New Yorkers—and essential workers—remain. It is to them, to all those who persist in a city forced into a mode that is its very antithesis, that empowering public art about diversity and equity speaks.
“It is fantastic that art is no longer confined to traditional spaces and is being displayed in unconventional ways,” says Sarupa Sidaarth of the exhibit’s public art element. Her gallery and billboard pieces, Entertainment Unit and Palimpsest, are about equality and diversity. “It should be accessible to people who don’t walk into galleries and museums… Public art has become one of the most important visual domains of our times.”
Gallery exhibition on view from September 26 – October 17, 2020
The Untitled Space, 45 Lispenard Street, NYC 10013
Public billboards on view from September 21 – October 21, 2020 Throughout New York City