As people we react to injustices. As artists we react to censorship.
SAQA’s exhibition “People and Portraits” is currently traveling with AQS QuiltWeek and was recently shown in Grand Rapids, Michigan, August 10-13, 2016.
AQS received several complaints from visitors about one of the pieces in the exhibit: Kathy Nida’s “I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket”. The show management decided to remove the piece on Saturday morning of the 4-day event. And they have decided not to continue to tour it with the rest of the exhibition. They have also decided not to tour Kathy’s other piece “Fully Medicated”.
AQS’s removal of Kathy Nida’s work from the People and Portraits exhibit has created a major response from our members and the art community at large.
Over the last week, the SAQA board has analyzed this situation from every angle and tried to make sense of what transpired. What could have been done differently? What does this mean for our loan agreement, our arrangements with venues, and our relationship with AQS?
AQS’s removal of the Kathy Nida work from the People and Portraits exhibit is a reminder that art can be controversial, and that artistic integrity often conflicts with the needs of exhibition venues.
As we assessed how this situation unfolded, we discovered that our process for working with venues is not perfect. Our loan agreement, while good, needs tightening. Our process for having venues review an exhibit in its entirety before it is shipped out can be improved.
SAQA has communicated our distress (and the distress of many of our members) to AQS. While we are not happy with their actions at the Grand Rapids show, we do understand that they are running a business and have their own objectives.
And, we are proud of our staff working in the booth during the Grand Rapids exhibit. Our staff took the opportunity to foster discussion with show visitors about censorship in general. Images of Kathy’s work were made available on an iPad. They strongly encouraged visitors to voice their opinion to AQS. In all, it was a positive opportunity to educate others, which indeed is part of our mission.
So what does this mean for SAQA going forward?
First, we have created an ad hoc committee of current and former board members to review and improve the Exhibition Loan Agreement. In addition to reviewing the language of our agreement, we will also assess the process by which organizations preview an exhibit as a whole prior to agreeing to have it at their venue.
What does this mean for SAQA working with AQS?
As you know our exhibition strategy includes traveling exhibits to a number of different types of venues (museums, galleries, art centers, and quilt festivals). Festivals remain an important leg in our exhibit portfolio to educate the public about the art quilt and the artists making the work. And in particular, AQS provides a significant number of visitors each year, seeing our work, and learning more about SAQA.
AQS wants to move forward together and agrees to work with us to avoid this in the future. As a goodwill gesture, AQS has agreed to display an additional SAQA exhibit, Balancing Act, at the 2016 AQS shows in Chattanooga and Des Moines. This gives more exposure to art quilts to the public and benefits SAQA’s artists.
What does this mean for other venues?
SAQA will continue our focus on finding new venues for the art quilt, including museums and other non-traditional venues.
And finally, what does this mean for Kathy Nida?
She has this to say, “I appreciate SAQA’s support and their willingness to get all our work out there, even when it’s a challenge. I especially appreciate the SAQA members who had the picture of the banned quilt out and were showing it to people. Odds are they are people I have never met, but they were willing to step up for me and my work, and that is a good thing.”
So artists, keep making your art. SAQA will continue to promote the art quilt through our varied exhibition program. And when the unexpected happens, we will react, reach for new understandings, and respond with improvement to our policies and programs.
The SAQA Board of Directors