Review: Exhibition by ACLU and Weinberg/Newton Gallery Explores Voting Rights in Multiple Media

The Weinberg/Newton Gallery in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) presents an exhibition on voting rights that is particularly relevant in this presidential election year. Anthem can be viewed online and in the gallery’s storefront windows on MIlwaukee Avenue. This exhibition explores different issues such as symbols that are used to express American patriotism, how patriotic dissent can act as a catalyst for change, and our collective identity as a nation. The power of this exhibition is the range of media that is on display by contemporary artists Bethany Collins, Jaclyn Conley, Eve L. Ewing, Mike Gibisser, Naima Green, Ellen Rothenberg and Sanaz Sohrabi. Although each artist works in different media, together they work as a whole that allows us to reflect on social and political activism. Jaclyn Conley, Those in Need of Hope Jaclyn Conley, Those in Need of Hope, 2020. Oil on panel with collage, triptych. Photo courtesy of the artist. Jaclyn Conley has two works on display. In her painting, A Gathering, there is a collage of figures that she sourced from photos that documented past American presidential campaigns and rallies. In her other painting, Those in Need of Hope, she uses figures from Paul Fusco’s photos of the RFK Funeral Train. In both paintings, we see how politics draws people together either with a sense of hope for a new leader or by grieving the death of another. An added online feature allows viewers to study Conley’s work in closer detail by enlarging different sections of her paintings. Also on display are four poems by Eve L. Ewing, who is a Chicago poet and a sociologist whose research is focused on racism and social inequality. In this exhibition, one of her poems is from her poetry collection, Electric Arches, and the other three poems are from her book, 1919, which is about the race riots in Chicago of 1919. Her four poems showcase the beauty and elegance as well as the haunting quality in her writing. Visitors will be able to leaf through America: A Hymnal  by Bethany Collins, a book bound and designed in the likeness of a shape note hymnal. This work comprises 100 different versions of My Country ‘Tis of Thee that have been written over the course of the past two centuries. The song’s numerous lyrical variations support diverse causes such as temperance, suffrage, abolition and even the confederacy. America: A Hymnal  is a chronological retelling of American history, politics and culture through one song. Mike Gibisser, Travel Stop, Mike Gibisser, Travel Stop, 2018. 16mm, color, sound. 16 minutes. Photo courtesy of the artist. Two videos by Mike Gibisser offer two different portraits of civic identity. In Blue Loop, July, Gibisser uses nighttime long exposures as he documents Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood as it celebrates the Fourth of July. In Travel Stop, Gibisser takes us inside the world’s largest truck stop in Walcott, Iowa. In this truck stop, we step into another world where we get a glimpse of restaurants, a dental office, a large truck wash, and even a gift shop that sells kitschy patriotic items. Despite the large number of people and vehicles in this truck stop, the viewer can’t help but feel a sense of emptiness in this bright, gleaming environment. A video essay by Sanaz Sohrabi, Notes on Seeing Double, characterizes the public as a collective corpus and weaves together observational footage with historical images by integrating fiction and reality. In this video, Sohrabi focuses on two images—the Rembrandt painting, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp and an enlarged photo of a historical gathering in Tehran. Through these two images, Sohrabi shows us how the dimensions of reality and illusion overlap with one another. Sanaz Sohrabi, Still from Notes on Seeing Double Sanaz Sohrabi, Notes on Seeing Double, 2018. Video with sound. 11:10 minutes. Photo courtesy of the artist. An installation by Ellen Rothenberg showcases historical and contemporary images related to the voting rights movement in the U.S. over the past two centuries. Rothenberg’s installation also includes media such as YouTube videos of Malcolm X’s speech, The Ballot or the Bullet; a speech by George Floyd’s brother, Terrence Floyd; Shirley Chisholm declaring her presidential bid in 1972; and Barack Obama’s eulogy at John Lewis’s funeral. Anthem will also be updated throughout the run of the show as Naima Green contributes regular installments of her Open Tabs Piece. Green will contribute a new installment every other week throughout the run of the show. The strength of this exhibition is that it shows us how social justice issues are relevant on the local, national and international level. And it acts as a reminder that we all have the power to influence change in this country either through social activism or through the act of casting a vote on election day (or by mail-in voting). Anthem can be viewed through December 19. Weinberg/Newton Gallery is a non-commercial gallery dedicated to promoting the work of social justice causes and is located at 688 N. Milwaukee Avenue. A public programming series will be offered virtually throughout the run of this exhibition in order to encourage a dialogue on civil liberties, voter suppression and the role of art in social justice movements. The ACLU, founded 100 years ago, is the nation’s premier defender of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, including freedoms such as speech and religion, voting rights, a woman’s right to choose, the right to due process, citizens’ rights to privacy and much more. With more than 1.5 million members, nearly 300 staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys, and offices throughout the nation, the ACLU of today stands up for these rights even when the cause is unpopular, and sometimes when nobody else will. The ACLU of Illinois has been the principal protector of constitutional rights in our state since its founding in 1926. Learn how you can become involved.
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Thomas Wawzenek