THIS CAMPAIGN SEASON is like none other. In anticipation of the 2020 Presidential election, Rice University is presenting an intergenerational group exhibition focused on the state of democracy and some of the most urgent and divisive issues in American politics, namely voter access, police brutality, gun control, and immigration.

“States of Mind: Art and American Democracy” features 30 artists, many of them African American, including Alexandra Bell, Tony Cokes, Paul Stephen Benjamin, Janiva Ellis, Kevin Jerome Everson, Tomashi Jackson, Rodney McMillian, Xaviera Simmons, Hank Willis Thomas, and Wilmer Wilson IV.

 


RODNEY MCMILLIAN, “Untitled (Supreme Court),” 2004-06 (poured acrylic paint on cut canvas, 216 x 216 inches). | Courtesy the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles, © 2020 the artist. Photo by Gene Ogami

 

Dating from the 1990s to present, the works span many mediums. “L.A.P.D Uniforms” (1993) by Chris Burden is an installation made in response to the 1992 Rodney King police beating and subsequent uprising in Los Angeles. “Untitled (The Supreme Court Painting)” (2004–06), McMillian’s depiction of the Neo-classical U.S. Supreme Court building showing it slack, slumping, and on the verge of collapse, making a statement about the High Court’s role in deciding the Presidential election in 2000, favoring George W. Bush over Al Gore.

Referencing the American flag, “15,093” (2018) by Hank Willis Thomas is navy blue with embroidered white stars, each symbolizing an American killed by gun violence in 2016. The banner pools on the ground due to the amount of fabric required to represent the statistic.

“Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t for the 2020 Presidential Election” is a site-specific installation by Aram Han Sifuentes. The work “encourages the public to think about voting as an inclusive act of civic participation” and “consists of a booth where visitors can cast ballots that question the electoral system, who is excluded from it, and what would happen if those marginalized people were allowed to take part in the democratic process.”

Another work by McMillian is particularly poignant. “Untitled (flag IV)” (2012) employs the format of an American-style flag emblazoned with the words of Clinton Drake. In 1965, when he was 15-years-old, Drake marched for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. He served in Vietnam at 18, and later lost the right to vote when he was convicted of a minor drug charge.

 


Installation view of “States of Mind: Art and American Democracy,” Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, Texas (Sept. 19-Dec. 19, 2020). | Photo by Nash Baker, Courtesy Moody Center for the Arts. Shown, far right, RODNEY MCMILLIAN, “Untitled (flag IV),” 2012 (burlap, thread, plaster and latex, 80 H x 169 W inches). | Photo by Nash Baker, Courtesy Moody Center for the Arts

 

Drake’s experience is recounted in Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and McMillian embroidered his words on burlap using red thread, each line forming a stripe on his “flag” work. In part, Drake said:

    I put my life on the line for this country. To me, not voting is not right: it led to a lot of frustration, a lot of anger. My son’s in Iraq. In the army just like I was. My oldest son, he fought in the first Persian Gulf conflict. He was in the Marines. This is my baby son over there right now. But I’m not able to vote. They say I owe $900 in fines. To me that’s a poll tax. You’ve got to pay to vote. It’s restitution, they say. I came off parole on Oct. 13, 1999, but I am still not allowed to vote.

The words are signed “Clinton Drake, 2004.” They are hard to read. Drake’s experience represents many. Due to felony disenfranchisement, nearly 5.2 million Americans are unable to vote—2.3 percent of the population, according to The Sentencing Project.

Over the past 25 years, half of all states have amended their laws to expand access to voting for former felons. Since 2016, more than a dozen years after Drake shared his story, felony disenfranchisement has declined nearly 16 percent. Nonetheless, the problem persists for millions. For African Americans, the statistics are astounding: 6.2 percent of African American adults are disenfranchised, compared with 1.7 percent of the non-Black population. Figures specific to veterans are hard to come by. In 2003, The Sentencing Project estimated nearly 600,000 veterans were unable to vote as a result of a felony conviction. CT

 

“States of Mind: Art and American Democracy” is on view at the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston, Texas, from Sept. 19-Dec. 19, 2020

 


Installation view of “States of Mind: Art and American Democracy,” Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, Texas (Sept. 19-Dec. 19, 2020). | Photo by Nash Baker, Courtesy Moody Center for the Arts

 


HANK WILLIS THOMAS, “15,093,” 2018 (embroidered stars on polyester-blend flag, pole, metal eagle finial with cast-iron mount, approximately 432 inches x 85 1/2 overall). | Collection of Alex and Kelly Lakatos, © 2020 the artist. Photo courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 


Installation view of “States of Mind: Art and American Democracy,” Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, Texas (Sept. 19-Dec. 19, 2020). | Photo by Nash Baker, Courtesy Moody Center for the Arts

 


TOMASHI JACKSON, “A Pnyx for Crystal Mason in Fort Worth, TX,” 2020 (UV print on PVC marine vinyl, campaign sign, acrylic paint, muslin, safety pins, acrylic yarn, and canvas, 86 x 53 inches). | Courtesy the artist and Night Gallery, © 2020 the artist. Photo by Nik Massey

 


Installation view of CHRIS BURDEN, “L.A.P.D. Uniforms,” 1993 (wool serge, metal, leather, wood, and plastic, three works: 88 x 72 x 6 inches each). | Courtesy the Chris Burden Estate, © Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: © Museum Associates/LACMA

 


Detail of site-specific installation, ARAM HAN SIFUENTES, “Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t for the 2020 Presidential Election” (2020), “States of Mind: Art and American Democracy,” Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, Texas. | Photo by Nash Baker, Courtesy Moody Center for the Arts

 


Site-specific installation, ARAM HAN SIFUENTES, “Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t for the 2020 Presidential Election” (2020), “States of Mind: Art and American Democracy,” Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, Texas. | Photo by Nash Baker, Courtesy Moody Center for the Arts

 


Installation view of “States of Mind: Art and American Democracy,” Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, Texas (Sept. 19-Dec. 19, 2020). | Photo by Nash Baker, Courtesy Moody Center for the Arts

 


SANDY RODRIGUEZ, “Mapa de Los Angeles: For Those Killed by Police in 2018,” 2018 (hand-processed dyes and watercolor from native plants and earth pigments on amate paper. 47 x 94 inches). | © 2020 the artist, Courtesy the artist. Photo by J6 creative, Courtesy the artist

 


Installation view of “States of Mind: Art and American Democracy,” Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, Texas (Sept. 19-Dec. 19, 2020). Shown, from left, HANK WILLIS THOMAS, “15,093” (2018) and works by ALEXANDRA BELL (3). | Photo by Nash Baker, Courtesy Moody Center for the Arts

 

BOOKSHELF
“Hank Willis Thomas: Pitch Blackness” is the artist’s first monograph. Published more recently “Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal” survey’s his career. Co-published by the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania and The Studio Museum in Harlem, “Rodney McMillian,” coincided with “Rodney McMillian: The Black Show” and “Rodney McMillian: Views of Main Street.” “Rodney McMillian” was published to accompany the artist’s Aspen Art Museum exhibition. Also consider, “Contact Sheet 180: Xaviera Simmons.”

 

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