LAWRENCE – Parenthood may seem like the most natural, nearly universal adult condition. And yet, according to Maria Velasco, in the art world and especially the academic art world, parenthood is truly challenging, edgy subject matter because it’s liable to get you dismissed as hokey and sentimental.
That’s why it is a bold choice for the subject of a forthcoming exhibition the University of Kansas professor of visual art co-curated for the Lawrence Arts Center titled “Making It Work.” The show opens May 27 and runs through July 30.
“The most activist thing we can do right now is to speak up and take up public space – to make ourselves visible, because the culture, with its systemic inequities in gender and familial relationships, tries to make us invisible,” Velasco said. Her struggle to reconcile her competing roles as mother, working artist and teacher has informed her work these past few years. Her 2020 award-winning documentary film, “All of Me: Artists + Mothers,” will have its first local screening at 7 p.m. July 28 at the arts center as part of the exhibition.
Velasco said she and co-curator Rachel Epp Buller, a professor of visual art and design at Bethel College in central Kansas, wanted to show artists who embrace the generative possibilities of parenthood through subject matter, collaboration or a caring lens through which to reframe institutional structures, advocate for political reform and build more sustainable futures. “Making It Work” brings together six contemporary artists from across the U.S. who tell stories across generations, posit caregiving as a political act and develop community-minded initiatives for change.
For Alberto Aguilar, the lone man in the show, his photographs are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing him to see his home — its people and furniture — arranged in new ways.
The arts center’s public-facing front window space will be taken up by Lise Haller Baggesen’s “Mothernism,” a reading room and installation of pinks and purples designed to encourage conversations about care work and intergenerational feminist knowledge-sharing.
Conceptual artist Jina Valentine’s work will invite the community to rewrite history and dismantle institutional racism through meaningful conversations, Velasco said. Valentine will lead three sessions of “The Black Lunch Table,” a series of discussions that anyone may join by Zoom (RSVP requested) and focuses on creating community for Black artists. The June 25 event is a Wikipedia “edit-a-thon” designed to review and improve “a specific set of Wikipedia articles that pertain to the lives and works of Black artists.” Valentine has also prepared art cards for anyone who stops by the gallery to take home.
The exhibition will also extend out into the community, with a large-scale photo by Cara Romero to be installed on the 30-foot-tall parking lot facade next to Lawrence Public Library and a participatory audio piece by Christa Donner accessible (via a QR code) in the nearby South Park. Velasco said Donner’s web platform Cultural ReProducers was most inspiring to the curators as they shaped the show.
Velasco said she hopes people who view or participate in the exhibition will feel empowered.
“I want the people with me in this boat to feel inspired and supported,” Velasco said. “I'm so tired of being Superwoman. I don't want to be Superwoman. I want the system to support me, and I can just be a woman, you know?”
Image: Photo of Lise Haller Baggesen’s "Mothernism" installation at the “Mapping the Maternal” conference, University of Alberta. Credit: Michael Wooley