Cultural commentators become transformative artists in Kelly Parks Snider’s Hidden in Plain Sight. Her new exhibition, decrying inequality of all kinds, makes collaborators out of nationally regarded political and social justice experts.
The multimedia show opened on Sept. 24 at the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac, in south-central Wisconsin. It moves to Milwaukee on Jan. 17.
Hidden in Plain Sight was created in dialogue with nine experts, activists and commentators including John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine; Matt Rothschild, former publisher and senior editor of The Progressive magazine; and Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy.
Graves studies and writes about the influence of organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“I’m always interested in exploring contemporary culture and in using art as a way of hopefully opening people’s eyes to look at injustices more carefully,” says Parks Snider, an artist based in Oregon, Wisconsin. Besides exhibiting across the country, she’s cofounder of Project Girl, a national program that combines youth-led activism with art and media literacy. She’s also the author of Zilly: A Modern Day Fable, which she considers to be a children’s “protest book.”
Hidden in Plain Sight includes her collage, steel and wood sculptures and large-scale visual narratives. It explores divisions and how society came to devalue specific groups.
“The origin of this idea was to look at power, and look at privilege, and to look at inequality — and to take those issues and unravel their dimensions in society: gender, race, economics, politics, environment,” says Parks Snider, “and then connect each of those specific areas to somebody — a thinker in that area, either an academic or an activist or a journalist.”
When she presented the provocative exhibit’s concept to them, “everybody — that entire group — met the project with such enthusiasm,” she says. “All of them are problem-solvers. They’re interested in truth and they’re willing to be in uncomfortable spaces.”
In dialogues with her art partners — Rothschild calls it “riffing” — “I tried to listen carefully to what my collaborators said, and then I tried to amplify my sensibilities and try to take their ideas and make them into something more imaginative,” Parks Snider says.
She hopes the exhibit engenders a response and leads viewers to engage with social justice organizations in their own communities.
“Why I think art is so effective is that stillness when you interact with it, and you have that moment where you breathe, and it really comes back to yourself,” says Parks Snider. “You look at yourself. ‘How am I participating in this?’ And change or effect begins within ourselves.”
Hidden in Plain Sight will be exhibited at the River Arts Center Gallery, 590 Water St., Prairie du Sac, through Dec. 7. The exhibit will move to the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Studio, 108 E. Wells St., Jan. 17-31. For more information, visit riverartsinc.org.