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'Speaking Volumes': Exhibit explores hate literature transformed into thoughtful artwork

'Speaking Volumes': Exhibit explores hate literature transformed into thoughtful artwork

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WATERLOO | “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote from the 1963 volume, “Strength to Love,” meets visitors as they walk into the new exhibition at the Waterloo Center for the Arts, “Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate.”

The show features the work of 39 nationally and regionally known artists, including Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, an acclaimed native American artist, Arianna Boussard-Reifel, Faith Ringgold and Enrique Chagoya, that has transformed anti-Semitic and racist propaganda into thought-provoking, moving and sometimes humorous art.

The exhibit, housed in the Forsberg Riverside Galleries through Sept. 31, also includes a reception and gallery talk Thursday, featuring guest speaker and exhibition curator Kate Knight of the Montana Human Rights Network. In addition, a free film series begins July 30 in the Law Court Theatre, sponsored by Cedar Valley Pridefest and Hawkeye Community College.

“Conceptually, these artists have created artwork that inspires change, thought and discussion, and explores the roots of where hatred starts,” says WCA Curator Chawne Paige.

The original exhibition opened in 2008 at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Mont., and later traveled to 10 museums throughout the state. Organizers at the Montana Human Rights Network then decided to make the show available to museums throughout the country.

The story actually began in 2003, when a defector from the Montana faction of the Creativity Movement, a white supremacist group founded by Ben Klassen, offered to sell the network more than 4000 books and other materials. In partnership with the Holter Museum, artists were invited to transform the material into works of art with a positive message.

Knight, who served as curator of education at the museum, says the exhibition demonstrates “diverse strategies adopted by artists in response to the original books. They rewrite the words to transform their meaning, find irony and humor in human foibles, celebrate unity and create models for teaching tolerance.”

The artwork has become an impetus for civil dialogue, says Paige.

“With race relations prevalent in the news these days, it’s a timely exhibition. There are so many aspects to the artwork that the community can have serious, healthy, honest and real dialogue about hate, and the harm it does,” he explains.

Several pieces are particularly gripping, such as “Strangefruit,” a tire dangling from a noose by Seattle artist Jack Daws. South Carolina artist Jean Grosser used wood, paper, gold leaf and photos of Jewish men, women and children to create shrines from neo-Nazi hate literature.

Miguel Guillen’s mixed media piece, “The Cooling Table,” shows colorfully iced sugar cookies that spell “h-a-t-e.” The piece serves to illustrate how values are conveyed to children. 

WCA is collaborating on the exhibit and programming with the Waterloo Community Schools, Waterloo Human Rights Commission, Waterloo Public Library, UNI Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education and Hawkeye Community College.

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