In the year since gallerist and curator John Brooks first had the idea for the group show We All Declare For Liberty: 2020 and the Future of American Citizenship, the world shifted in a way that feels dramatic and uncertain. Yet the current exhibition at Quappi Projects in Louisville, Kentucky largely avoids reactionary tropes, eschewing too-easy activism in favor of work that is nuanced, provocative and often beautiful. Representing 18 artists from the region, the show is dense with work but never feels crowded, and Brooks’s thoughtful hanging invites connections.
One corner of the gallery is anchored by Travis Townsend’s Vessel of Manifest Destiny! (2nd Permutation), whose crude construction underscores the dangerous naivete of its mission. This is a vessel of dubious buoyancy; one imagines it steadily taking on water as it lumbers into the open waters of decolonization.
The repetition and layering in Townsend’s sculpture are echoed in adjacent works, almost as if reflections on the surface of water: Skylar Smith’s palimpsest of the slow progression toward equal rights for women and Timothy Robertson’s four-part series depicting an American flag draped over a garbage bin with a water-like warping effect that mesmerizes at the same time it suggests its own dissolution.
In another corner, works focus on citizenship through the individual experience: photography by Destiny Mbachu shows a young black woman bathed in purple and magenta light and calmly confident as the work’s title demands we SHOW ME SOME FUCKIN RESPECT. Cuban native José Manuel Nápoles’s portrait of his fiance expresses a childlike exuberance that belies the agonizing displacement of emigration, while Iraqi-American Vian Sora paints silhouettes of human heads, their faces obscured in crimson fissures resembling desiccated deserts and violent blood splatters.
Breonna Taylor’s presence is felt in several works by Louisville-based artists, including the wonderfully defiant KING LOUI, queer Black photographer Kenyatta Boseman’s depiction of BIPOC youth gathered in protest and solidarity. In front of it, a limestone obelisk — the latest in Sean Starowitz’s exploration of fallen monuments — lays toppled and shattered, suggesting destruction might yet make way for a new, more just world.
We All Declare For Liberty: 2020 and the Future of American Citizenship, is on view at Quappi Projects until November 21, 2021. Quappi Projects is open Thursdays and Fridays, 12 – 4pm, Saturdays 11am – 3pm and by appointment.