Multicultural exhibit grants voice to minority artists

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Following the 2016 election, artist Kasey Jones and photographer Emily Webb felt the need to speak out for minority groups in the Athens area. They co-curated “In the Margins,” an exhibition of art with themes of marginalized groups.

Jones said that, as a woman, she felt threatened following the election. To get more minority groups around Athens involved, she and Webb looked for art produced by women, people of color and members of the LGBT community.

“After so many groups of Americans were openly targeted in the lead-up to the 2016 election, and when the Republican nominee ended up with the Electoral College victory, we were angry and scared,” Webb said. “We knew we had to do something, so we decided to have this show where marginalized groups . . . were given an opportunity to express themselves through art.”

The exhibition, which is being displayed in Baker Center’s Multicultural Gallery, features photography, paintings, performances, digital artwork and mixed media from 11 community and student artists. In addition to bringing up issues of race, gender and sexuality, some artists decided to portray the struggle of the native Appalachian.

While the primary goal of the exhibition is to draw attention to minority groups, there is a secondary purpose: to give student artists from the Ohio University School of Art a chance to showcase their work outside of the classroom.

“When you are in school, you are only exposed to the world of academia, and that is where your artwork exists,” Jones said. “You step outside the safety of academia and you begin to test how your work resonates – or not – with the general public.”

Other artists from around the community were also encouraged to submit pieces that fit the theme of the exhibit, regardless of their levels of experience in the art world.

“This particular call for art was about being in the margins, feeling in the margins and doing something positive about that – something that could channel those feelings into something beautiful or expressive and could share something about our diverse identities,” said Alicia Chavira-Prado, a self-taught artist whose mosaics were chosen as part of the exhibition.

Chavira-Prado, a cultural anthropologist of Mexican-American descent, was initially hesitant to submit her artwork, but decided to do so after talking it over with a colleague. She channels both her own experiences and her studies in anthropology into her art.

“I remember thinking, ‘this is for people who really are artists, not for me,’” said Chavira-Prado, who had been making paintings and mosaics with themes of cultural identity for several years before hearing about In the Margins. “What really caught my eye was what (In the Margins) was about.”

The current In the Margins exhibition is Jones and Webb’s second installation with the same name. The first was held at AthensWorks in February. Along with Winsome Brayda-Chinnu, the Multicultural Gallery’s director, the co-curators have discussed making In the Margins an annual exhibition.

“This is very exciting for us because Athens needs more opportunities for local artists,” Jones said. “Athens is not an art mecca and unless you are involved in the School of Fine Arts, the opportunities for local artists are bleak.”

Jones and Webb met on a trip to London when both were undergrads at Ohio University. Webb, an Athens native, now lives in Columbus, where she is a grant writer for a performing arts organization and continues her work in photography. Jones, meanwhile, works on large-scale projects with socially-conscious themes, including her “Working Mother Suit” series, which was featured in several national publications.

In the Margins opened on Sept. 1 and will be on display through Sept. 30. The Multicultural Gallery, located on the second floor of Baker Center, is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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