When the doors opened at 4 pm on the first Monday in May 2023, The FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ARTISTS occupied space like no one before and the community showed up!
With almost 70 works and one video documentary from a group of 10 different artists, a crowd of nearly 200 people flowed into The Polk County Heritage Gallery to celebrate art, freedom, accessibility, self-expression, and community inclusion. The exhibition artists are
Holly Newvine, Jack Marren, Sarah Sadie Logemann, Kevin Thor, Vera Webster, Nathan Williamson, Zoe Niswander, Leo Bird, Ryan Mueller, Danielle.
"That was a record attendance for PCHG!"
~ Mary Jones, Polk County Heritage Gallery
The exhibition includes rarely-seen works by all Iowa-based artists, each of whom explored different modes of artmaking as a decision to express themselves fully.
"I have been working at the gallery for years and never seen so much joy at an opening night before."
~ Rick Miller, Polk County Heritage Gallery
The joy behind artist Kevin Thor's work, the artist pictured here with his family and community members, shows up in the form of artwear. At times, he physically occupies his creations and in this piece entitled, God Warrior, he did just that during the opening reception. This exceedingly personal outfit was made by hand, and it conforms to no specific aesthetic criterion. This piece was created by employing various techniques, including sewing, leather tooling and burning, upcycling, and many others. Thor partnered with fashion designer Gretchen Bohling to bring his vision to life. For this group exhibition, Thor's work will remain in the Gallery, on a mannequin display, through the closing date of 16 June.
"My artwork is about my Nordic god self. It means warrior, God, and strength." ~ Kevin Thor
In this image, artist Vera Webster stands between her two exhibited works. Webster mixes her own paint colors and creates collages by deconstructing and reconstructing dyed arches paper. Her works speak in ways and express ideas and insights that are harder to express verbally. Art is a means of communication for Webster.
The multimedia, interactive masks by artist Holly Newvine, pictured to the left, invite individuals to visually see themselves in and through the eyes of her works. Newvine uses the outside and inside of each mask to spark thoughts about what we show and what we don't; how we feel on the outside vs. how we feel on the inside. With each mask standing up on an L-shaped platform and backed with a mirror, the presentation of the works provides literal reflection and observation experiences.
One of the largest occupations of space inside the exhibition comes from artist Ryan Mueller. In the image above, Mueller sits in a chair in front of his 21-piece series entitled, Grid Studies 1 -21. Ryan Mueller is a geometric abstraction artist, who lives and works in Ankeny, Iowa. He creates his work using a systematic process. Drawing lined grids across sheets of paper, using rulers, and working from the edges into the middle, Ryan explores the relationship between lines, angles, and surfaces. When choosing colors, he works organically.
"I create as a way to enjoy time with myself, in my own space."
~ Ryan Mueller
This group exhibition presented many firsts for artist Zoe Niswander. The first time she shared an artist talk with her Father, the first time she exhibited in a gallery, and the first time she meet Open Arts Minnesota - Executive Director Wilbur Neushwander-Frink and Brian Frink (pictured here).
"I started painting when I was 5 years old. My Father encouraged me to use my ideas and put them on colorful pictures like rainbows, flying ponies, ocean, light, and darkness!"
~ Zoe Niswander
The full exhibition presents a robust display of artistic disciplines, mediums, narratives, ways of thinking, hopes and dreams, lived experiences, and opportunities for voices to be heard. The works of art in the FOE Exhibition are about inclusion and reflect the truth of our world.
One of the most powerful aspects of this exhibition is the representation of marginalized communities by artists and human beings who live within a marginalized community. That, to me, makes each work an act of resistance against systems of oppression. Don't miss this exhibition!
The FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION PROJECT exhibition runs through 16 June. Please visit Polk County Heritage Gallery at 111 Court Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa to experience all the works on exhibition.
THE FOE HISTORY
THE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION PROJECT
A Transformative Art Project of Accessibility + Inclusion
In partnership with Mosaic in Central Iowa, The Greater Des Moines Public Arts Foundation, Heritage Gallery, Mainframe Studios, and The Harkin Institute Fellow
Jill Wells, FOE began working together in November 2022. During the initial group workshop at Mainframe Studios, the artists worked together on two large-scale paint-pour canvases. Together they created the inspirational works that would become the 3D mapped image that was projected on the outside of Polk County Heritage Gallery opening night. Additionally, their work was profiled by The Des Moines Register and made the front page of the Sunday, Christmas day paper.
The FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION PROJECT (FOE) and group exhibition promotes the full participation of individuals living with disabilities in and through the arts. FOE underscores the relationship between human experiences and the right to freedom of expression and opinion as essential to the ability of persons of all disabilities to develop as individuals and to participate fully in all aspects of life on an equal basis.
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