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Politically Engaged Art Takes Over MCA Denver in “Citizenship: A Practice of Society”

The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver's latest exhibition, opening October 2, showcases works from 30-plus artists that reference newsworthy topics from the last four years.

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Most of modern society can agree that 2020 has been a year unlike any in history. But to Zoe Larkins, assistant curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, 2016 was the year when the world really started to change. After the 2016 election, Larkins noted that a lot of politically engaged art was being produced across different mediums, and she determined that the works themselves could be considered acts of citizenship.

In MCA Denver’s upcoming exhibit, Citizenship: A Practice of Society—opening to members October 2 and the public on October 3—Larkins curates works by 30-plus artists, all pertaining to the politically charged topics that have made news for the past four years, like the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, racial tensions, and voting rights, among others.

Flint Water Bottle
Artwork by Pope. L Photo courtesy of MCA Denver, Courtney Law

“I think there is something unique about this four-year period. The 2016 elections galvanized a lot of artists, and I wanted to take stock of what has happened since then,” says Larkins. “Whether it’s selling bottled-up Flint, Michigan water to bring awareness to the people affected, or making alternative flags that represents something more resonant to them than the stars and stripes, artists demonstrate how it is that we can envision or re-envision the world that we live in.”

The exhibit’s name—Citizenship: A Practice of Society—stems from Larkins’ take that art-making and creativity are important ways to engage in society. For this exhibit, which will be featured throughout the entire museum, she sought out artwork that surrounds the idea of nationality. This means that every piece is a recent work or new commission shown in the U.S, or made for an institution in the U.S.

“Artists demonstrate how being a citizen is like an artistic practice. It’s looking at systems and values that have given rise to the issues and using civic imagination to problem solve and create the world that we want to live in,” says Larkins.

Dignity Flag
“Dignity Has No Nationality,” 2017 by Tania Bruguera. Photo courtesy of MCA Denver, Courtney Law

The exhibit will feature works from two Colorado-based artists: Sculptor Yumi Janairo Roth and Laura Shill, who utilizes a variety of mediums including sculpture, installation, photography, and performance. Shill’s piece, “Including Other in the Self,” asks two participants at a time to engage in a series of 36 questions.

To kick off the exhibition, MCA will host a socially distant parade on October 3 (RSVP required). To continue the conversation, MCA will be hosting weekly online workshops and conversations with featured artists and other local organizations, such as the Denver Zine Library and Motus Theater. These conversations will range in topics from white supremacist monuments to the representation of disability in access to the arts, and will be live-streamed on MCA Denver’s YouTube Channel.

To comply with COVID-19 regulations, visitors are required to reserve tickets in advance. Additionally, MCA is offering “Penny Saturdays,” where guests can visit the museum for only a penny on the first Saturday of every month.

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