Banners with spray-painted slogans and sewed on statements have been dropped from bridges, overpasses, balconies, and building facades for decades. Whether in direct protest against the very structure from which they hang or held by citizens rallying for peace on city streets, banners have become a symbol of political dissent, social justice, and environmental advocacy. But at Union Hall’s latest exhibit Poems for Our Country—the space’s first curated group show—the banner can be anything its creator wants it to be, as long as it responds to curator Arielle Myers’ prompt, “What do you want to say going in to 2020?”
Within the collection of eight commissioned textile pieces (from eight artists) that will hang from the rafters, some make direct political statements, while others present intentions for 2020 (think New Year’s resolutions, but more ambitious). For example, the clean and uncomplicated assertion made by wildland firefighter and part-time Denver resident Jackie Barry. On the flag in sans serif bubble letters reads “less curation, more conversation,” a challenge Barry makes not to the curated world of museums and galleries, but to the echo chambers many of us find ourselves taking part in on social media and around dinner tables. Barry asks us all to pop our comfort-zone bubbles, climb out, and engage with those whom we may not see eye-to-eye on issues of society or politics—like the president, for example.
President Donald Trump is precisely who Colorado artist and CU Boulder instructor Steven Frost takes aim at with his ornately garish, golden tapestry, which features a direct excerpt from the now-famous whistleblower report, released in September. Frost is known for using materials typically designated to the realm of “crafts” and featuring them in higher brow art contexts or activist spaces. Here, Frost embraces the aesthetics of camp and gaudiness, “using elements of humor and queerness to confront government corruption,” says Myers, the show’s curator. He simultaneously calls out President Trump’s celebrity flashiness while using his intricate weaving style as a metaphor for communities made stronger by coming together.
Adversely, Los Angeles-based digital illustrator and poet Sally Chung chooses to tell a more personal story. Her black ink on paper banner, titled “I hope you grow well,” addresses the tragedy Chung almost faced as wildfires raged near her home this past year. But instead of choosing to express despair over the region’s devastation, Chung recognizes the disaster as a chance to rise up out of the ashes and begin anew.
Each of the artists and their messages are as diverse as the materials used, but all fit into Myers’ vision of a collection of “poems” for our country in 2020—a vision which she recently saw reflected back to her while reading a 2017 New Yorker article about the efficacy of protests in the modern world. Twenty years into the 21st century, activism persists, albeit largely through social media platforms and with what feels like less institutional influence. Poems for Our Country isn’t a protest in itself, but it reminds us of activism’s roots as we prepare for what can only be described as a banner year for politics.
If You Go: Poems for Our Country will be displayed at Union Hall, 1750 Wewatta St., Suite 144, from November 14 through January 4. The opening reception is November 14, 6–9 p.m.