Sculptures of colorful repurposed plastic waste, a daily journal of the relationship between a river in New Delhi and its inhabitants and a simple pitcher of water are examples of the thought-provoking works sharing an artistic home under MSU Denver’s Center for Visual Art until Oct. 21.
“Visitors will learn not only about the challenges we face, but what can be done both individually and collectively to manage and sustain our scarce water resources,” said Cecily Cullen, CVA Managing Director and curator.
The exhibition “Water Line: A Creative Change” explores existential questions about the one element we all need to survive and are mostly composed of, water.
“Water is the center of concern and debate everywhere,” said Cecily Cullen, CVA Managing Director and Curator.
The exhibit features 19 artists that speak to the issues impacting water globally through photography, mixed-media installation, video, ceramic and sculpture. Each artist documents and reflects on the local struggles of water toxicity, contamination and corporate battles.
MSU Denver assistant professor Matt Jenkins is also displayed in the exhibit. Jenkins, who teaches socially engaged art courses, spoke of how the art world and critical race theory naturally intersect with environmental and socio-economic issues.
“Most people of color probably have a conversation in their heads or with somebody else about race every day. White people usually don’t,” he said.
Jenkins said he could have easily compiled photographs from places where people deal with the contamination and corporatization of water like Standing Rock, Flint, DC, California or the Navajo Reservation where the Animas River is polluted with Uranium.
Jenkins chose to keep it simple. “Let’s start by getting the water here,” he said.
“Water just is, let’s face it. There’s the sun, the earth, the sky and they are just elemental,” Jenkins said.
The contextual piece “Water from Flint, Michigan,” follows the simplistic ideology and takes it an experiential step further.
Jenkins reached out to Detroit native and water activist Lynna Kaucheck from Food & Water Watch. The organization is dedicated to keeping corporations that put profit before people accountable and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects the environment.
Kaucheck flew to Flint two days after she met with Jenkins and agreed to bring water back from the kitchen sink of someone’s home in Flint.
“Unlike reading an article, we all know what’s happening in Flint Michigan,” Cullen said. “You see the water yourself. You see the sediment and the way the water is impure. You can even smell it. It smells terrible.”
His collaboration with Kaucheck brought him water directly from the home of Melissa Mays, an activist and mother in Michigan. Mays is keeping government officials accountable for allowing contaminated water to be delivered into the homes of thousands in her city.
“She’s a thing, she’s like the one. One of the main activists and pretty eccentric character that has not backed down one bit,” Jenkins said.
Artists like Nicholas Galanin and Merritt Johnson share May’s determination to envision and push for a world of accountability. Their piece “Lifts The People with Shows a Good Way” interacts suggestively in attack toward Cannupa Hanska Luger’s piece “This is Not a Snake.”
Luger said the Water Line piece uses darker shades of color as “a subversive choice, representing our dependency, or our bond, to oil.”
Michelle de Leon, an environmental and sustainability sciences student at Cornell University, felt the “Water Line” exhibit did justice to water issues during her recent visit in Denver. She’s very passionate about water and angered at big corporations that are subsidized and don’t protect their water resources.
“I feel a deep obligation to honor this earth and I understand that water is critical in that equation,” de Leon said.
Jenkins feels similarly with de Leon about the sacred bond humans have to water.
“Water goes into our bodies, there’s no separation between us and it,” said Jenkins. “People drank that, kids drank that and you need to bear witness.”
Each contributor in the exhibit reflects and engages viewers with society’s role in protecting the environmental legacy for future generations.
De Leon knows that if her family, friends and strangers don’t have access to clean water they won’t live healthy productive lives.
Events at CVA are free and open to all.
Visit www.msudenver.edu/cva for full events listings and to register.