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A Call to the Ballot

by Kathleen Reckling, Deputy Director of Public Programs, ArtsWestchester

"I Vote Because by Ann Lewis" (photo courtesy of the artist)

Vote. By mail or in person. Absentee or early. This is the call to action by many artists in ArtsWestchester’s Give Us the Vote 2020 online exhibition. In the midst of a year that has challenged every American in some way, the call to the ballot box has been loud and emphatic, resonating across all forms of media, amongst friends and families, and in the streets on billboards and posters. Artists too have taken their civic duty seriously, not only committing to voting themselves but in also reminding others to cast their ballot. This exhibition explores the history of voting rights in America and celebrates the power of the ballot. Twenty-eight artists from across the country contributed works, many of which serve as a creative way to encourage people to vote.

For several decades, photographer Andrew Courtney has been documenting community leaders, social movements and the everyday conditions of those who live on the socio-economic margins. As an artist and teacher, his camera often serves as a tool for shedding light on the areas in which he feels that change needs to happen.  In Give Us the Vote 2020, Courtney shares two group portraits of a woman surrounded by teenagers. Each figure wears a cloth mask to protect from the spread of COVID-19. The woman, who is central, wears one with the word “vote” emblazoned across it. The portraits are an homage to the role women have played, and continue to play, in the important social movements of American history – from the suffrage movement of the 19th and 20th centuries to today’s movements for social justice.

Like Courtney’s photographs, many of the works in Give Us the Vote 2020 are a tribute to the 19th century suffragists, while also serving as a call to action in the present. Vote by Allison Belolan is a collage that draws on several symbols from social movements across the 20th and 21st centuries. The artist has blended traditional collage techniques with digital finishing. Sunflowers and yellow roses in the background symbolize the women’s suffrage movement and a raised fist in the mid-ground recognizes the current Black Lives Matter movement. She says: “While making this collage, I was thinking about the power we have as citizens to make real change with our votes.”Encapsulated Vote by Enne Tesse is a pill bottle filled with capsules that contain fragments of fabric, each with the handwritten word “VOTE.” The small sculpture, presented in a photograph, takes on several symbolic meanings. First, it replicates on a microscale the process of sorting, counting and casting ballots. Perhaps more significantly, the work offers a treatment for the challenges that we face collectively as a society: our vote.

In addition to featuring new works for a digital experience, Give Us the Vote 2020 revisits many works that were created for ArtsWestchester’s 2017 exhibition, Give Us the Vote, which was made possible with a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. Give Us the Vote 2020 is now on view.

A version of this article first appeared in the November issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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