We All Declare for Liberty

Front: “statues are silent teachers” by Sean Starowitz. Back Left to Right: “Duplicity” by Denise Furnish; “Spaces” by Hannah Drake; “William Clark’s Slave York is Denied His Freedom, 1806” by Joe McGee.

Quappi Projects opens new exhibit that focuses on the future of American Citizenship


Story and photos by Josh Miller


The initial concept for Quappi Projects’ latest art exhibit that opened October 9, 2020 in Louisville, KY titled “We All Declare for Liberty: 2020 and the Future of American Citizenship,” was birthed over a year ago by founder and artist John Brooks. “I am a politically engaged person,” Brooks said. “I have a degree in political science, these are things that are always on my mind. I knew that this year — being a big presidential election and with other elections as well — was going to be quite a year. I had no idea, no one could have known, how things would play out.”

Front: “statues are silent teachers” by Sean Starowitz. Back Left to Right: “Person, Woman, Man, TV, Camera” by John Brooks.

Stepping into Quappi Projects off of Market St. you are met by Sean Starowitz’s “statues are silent teachers,” created specifically for the show and installed as a monument destroyed. “He came into the gallery in January, before things closed, and we talked about the show,” Brooks explained. “He’s been working with repurposed and reimagined monuments for years.” The piece is made from Indiana limestone. Starowitz created it as one solid piece, and after shaping it into an obelisk, broke it apart for the exhibit. “It speaks to the conversation about our monuments. Who do we honor? Why do we honor them? Should we still be honoring certain people and ideas? It feels very much like a relic that was installed like an obstacle [in the exhibit].” 

“SHOW ME SOME FUCKIN RESPECT” by Destiny Mbachu flanked by “Vessel of Manifest Destiny! (2nd Permutation)” by Travis Townsend.

The exhibit includes a multi-generational group of 18 artists, featuring viewpoints from people who represent different lived experiences including Immigrants, Black, White, Women, LGBTQ+, Straight and Religious/Spiritual. Their pieces come together in response to a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s speech in 1864. “The world has never had a good definition of liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in need of one. We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.”

Some of the artists submitted pieces to Quappi’s open call for artists, while others were invited to participate as 2020 unfolded. “With COVID-19 and the economic repercussions, and with what is going on in Louisville with the death of Breonna Taylor and the protests, I decided to invite a few artists whose work I thought would specifically reflect what has gone on in Louisville this year,” Brooks shared as we walked through the exhibit, looking at KING LOUI, a photograph by Kenyatta Bosman taken during the Breonna Taylor protests. “I felt like we couldn’t have a show about the state of our politics — our future — without talking about what’s going on this year here.”

“KING LOUI” by Kenyatta Bosman.

One of the things I have said throughout 2020 is that at times it feels like we are in a twilight zone or a parallel universe. In some ways, I felt that way walking through the exhibit while looking at the contrasting pieces of art, like Brooks and artist Kris Thompson in masks installing a piece reflecting in the neon self-portrait by Destiny Mbachu. I saw it in Andrew Cenci’s black and white photos reflecting Hannah Drake’s poem “Spaces” and Matthew McDole’s piece “Infinite Jest.” I felt it in Kenyatta’s photograph reflecting Denise Furnish’s Tumbling Blocks quilt “Duplicity.” There are layers upon layers of information to process; a demonstration of the complexity we find ourselves grappling with today. As Brooks said, “All of these artists are extremely thoughtful. They are informed, engaged in their community and in the world. I think sometimes people can look to art as something that’s just pretty or in the background, something maybe a little bit unserious. This show is a great example of why that’s wrong. These artists are thinking about things that affect all of us. Artists are doing the work of looking at our world closely, analyzing our culture and our society with a critical eye and then trying to illuminate how we can be better.”

Front: Travis Townsend “Vessel of Manifest Destiny! (2nd Permutation)” by Travis Townsend, Back Left: “A History of Women’s Suffrage” by Skylar Smith. Back Right: “North, South, East, West” by Timothy Robertson.

For a contemporary art gallery whose mission is to feature artists whose work reflects the zeitgeist (a German word for spirit of the age or time), the show reflects notes about our history and the year we’ve had. “In many ways, this will be the most important exhibition in our program to date,” notes the Quappi Projects website. “Now more than ever, it could not be more clear that life — let alone art — does not exist separately from the events and movements of society, culture and politics.”

Front: “MAGA” by Kris Thompson. Back: “Consume” by Bryan Kelly Holden.

Artist Vian Sora, an immigrant from Iraq, described her piece as a “work that addresses the meaning and representation of citizenship and its relationship to the American flag. A flag that could resemble an escape, hope and endless possibilities, and simultaneously violence and brutality.” Across the gallery, Hannah Drakes’ words jump off the wall:

“It is for everyone that will come after me

For everyone to know they have a right to be in these spaces, to have seat at the table in these spaces, to have a voice in these spaces, to have influence in these spaces

That is why I stand in spaces that make me uncomfortable

Speaking boldly against injustice even now while some of you sit looking at me and now you feel uncomfortable

But today you have heard me

You cannot unsee me!

In this space, I belong…In this space…this space

We are here & We belong here! In this space!”

Artist Destiny Mbachu said, “I am so happy to be able to express myself on this level! The fact that I get to fight for my equity as a Black woman while having my work in a gallery makes me extremely ecstatic.”

“Spaces” by Hannah Drake.

From the role of a leader and president, to the amount of information and news we are faced with daily, to the question of who “spaces” are designed for and what they should celebrate, the artists put forward work that begs us to question attitudes and mindsets. “This show isn’t about partisanship,” Brooks said. “It asks, ‘What is the state of our national politics and the future of it? What does it require of us?’”

Quappi Projects Gallery
827 E Market St. (Side Gate Entrance)
Louisville, KY 40206
The exhibit runs through November 21, 2020.

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