Interactive “We the people” explores marginalized artists and communities

“We the People.” This is the opening line to the document that is the foundation of our country. Who was referred to as the “we” in 1787 compared to who is included now? The exhibit “We the People” at the Minnesota Museum of American Art tackles this question.

This exhibit consists of artists from marginalized communities, who share their perspectives on the phrase that defines America.  It’s mission is to “present a diversity of voices and visions, to re-imagine who it is that belongs as part of the American “we”…”

There are more than 35 pieces in all forms of media— photography, painting, sculpture, textiles, video, and sound installation. At the back of the exhibit there is a designated area with a surplus of materials to create your own art to hang on the wall.

A favorite piece of mine is the Untitled “trash can.” This was constructed as a letter from the artist Dustin Yager to his ex-lover. This is an interactive piece, where you can actually write a note or letter to a past, current, or future loved one. You leave the letter attached to the paper roll on the wall for the next person to tear off and throw away. Yager states, “In so doing, perhaps we can all toss away old memories and declare our independence, while sharing the common building blocks and experiences of our relationships with one another.”

This piece caught my eye because instead of ropes or “do not touch” signs blocking it off, the viewer can actually partake in the symbolism and beauty of the piece. It is both sad and uplifting. As one person wrote, “in spite of everything you took from me, I am now the best version of myself. You missed out on that.”

A work that struck me as a defining piece behind the message of this exhibit was “11000 KM of Hope” by Nooshin Hakim Javadi. The piece is a mixed media pair of shoes with jagged blue crystals on the toes. The curator’s note points out that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty begins: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” He continues by establishing that America has always been considered a refuge for immigrants, but Jayadi’s piece draws attention to the “accumulated psychological and emotional burdens many immigrants must carry to achieve the dreams of freedom and peace they seek.”

The exhibit is put together by four different curators: painter Christopher Harrison, Johnnay Leenay, Maggie Thomson, and Mary Anne Quiroz. The artists include Star Wallowing Bull, Zackary Drucker, Rico Gatson, Susan Hauptman, Nooshin Hakim Javadi, and Steve Ozone.

The Museum’s investment in this exhibit is worth the visit, and the last day the artwork will be on display is October 29th. As one curator Johnnay Leenay states, “this exhibition reflects the interpretations of four individuals from four different backgrounds, offering four different definitions of what it means to be American which, when combined, tell a more holistic story of ‘we the people’.”