In Dearly Disillusioned, Denver Artists Offer a Fresh Take on Women’s Suffrage

"Equality," presented by Pink Progression; fabric, teabags, thread, embroidery hoops; 2019.
"Equality," presented by Pink Progression; fabric, teabags, thread, embroidery hoops; 2019. Jane Dodge + Judy Anderson
A hundred years have passed since women won the right to vote, and Denver artists are using the centennial to reflect on social change and the disillusionment that can accompany it in Dearly Disillusioned.

Created in partnership with Denver Arts & Venues, the exhibit — which opens January 18 at the McNichols Building, in conjunction with the fourth annual Womxn's March — reflects on the centennial of women's suffrage and explores various takes on gender identity, environmental issues, indigenous rights, race, immigration and religious freedom, and how social movements can change how we see the world.

“People who have been disillusioned have lost their illusions discovering the truth about something,” says Anna Kaye, curator of the art collective Pink Progression, who organized the exhibit. “This alludes to unraveling the flaws and inequities in our society. For example, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment granted all women in the U.S. the right to vote; however, due to voter suppression and other issues, not all women were able to vote.”

Dearly Disillusioned comprises four installations from Denver-based arts collectives: Birdseed Collective, Pink Progression, Hardly Soft and Odessa. “Working together allows us to share our knowledge and experience while challenging each other to move outside of our comfort zone and discover a fusion of narratives,” Kaye says.

click to enlarge "Reminiscing Declarations," multimedia installation by Birdseed Collective artists Meredith Feniak, Karma Leigh and Kaitlyn Tucek, curated by Moe Gram; print by Karma Leigh. - KARMA LEIGH / BIRDSEED COLLECTIVE
"Reminiscing Declarations," multimedia installation by Birdseed Collective artists Meredith Feniak, Karma Leigh and Kaitlyn Tucek, curated by Moe Gram; print by Karma Leigh.
Karma Leigh / Birdseed Collective
Artists Meredith Feniak, Karma Leigh and Kaitlyn Tucek of Birdseed Collective created an installation titled “Reminiscing Declarations.” The project attempts to modernize the voices and visions of the suffragettes while also “calling out the patriarchy for what it is,” explains curator Moe Gram. “A select demographic of humans would argue our growth has reached a sufficient level of ‘feminine acceptance,’ while many others would argue we still have a long way to go. When we make time to intentionally examine the status of our growth as a nation, it is disappointing to learn we are not doing as well as we hoped. In this installation, we create space to reflect.”

Conceptual artists Amber Cobb and Mario Zoots, who have collaborated under the name Hardly Soft since 2018, marry their separate styles, merging sensuality with the science of consumerism. For Dearly Disillusioned, Cobb and Zoots took on a curatorial role, asking Masha Sha and Tomas Díaz Cedeño to prepare an experiential piece that asks visitors to consider what living in chaos for more than 1,000 days is like — a direct reference to life under the Trump presidency.

“We took a subtle approach to the overlying themes presented in Dearly Disillusioned,” the duo notes. “This moment in history marks a time for celebration and reflection. Hardly Soft has focused on the latter. It was great for us to see how other collaborations/collectives engaged with the concept and how they negotiated the physical space and exhibition layout. In particular, we had our eyes on Odessa: one, because of their refreshing curatorial approach to [the theme], and second, we selfishly wanted to observe their process, since they collaborate in their personal and professional lives as well.”

Odessa, run by Kristopher Wright and Corianne Wright, started a few years before Hardly Soft, in 2016. The nomadic group has become a dominant force in the Denver art community, curating shows at Collective SML | K and also running Creatives at Roundish Tables (CART), a monthly discussion series.

For Dearly Disillusioned, Odessa brought in Sierra Montoya Barela, Laura Dreyer, Talya Feldman, Shavana Smiley, Lindsay Smith Gustave and Hanna Waters to create “In the Making,” an exploration of these questions: How and why do women make things?

Kristopher and Corianne like how these women artists inspire dialogue and use bold mediums to express their opinions. “In the Making” allowed them to move beyond the label of “feminine” art, asking them to push their practice away from gender-generated categories that have historically limited women creatives.

click to enlarge "Fertile Rhythm," wood, fiber, fabric, acrylic paint, metal, flowers, 2020, presented by Pink Progression. - TIFFANY MATHESON, SCOTTIE BURGESS AND ROBIN HEXTRUM
"Fertile Rhythm," wood, fiber, fabric, acrylic paint, metal, flowers, 2020, presented by Pink Progression.
Tiffany Matheson, Scottie Burgess and Robin Hextrum
The fourth group, Pink Progression, is an artist collective born after the 2017 Women’s March, which Kaye describes as “a powerful expression of protest” that inspired Denver artists to raise their voices. The collective used the color pink as a galvanizing force and invited artists to either embrace or reject it in a series of exhibits under the Pink Progression umbrella in 2018.

The collective’s work for this show, "Coalesce," is based on the idea that social networks can promote political change. The group looks to the women’s suffrage movement as an activist model for later generations, showing them the power of banding together and raising their voices as one.

Instead of working together as one large group for the show, however, Pink Progression’s participating artists worked in groups of two or three. This allowed them to cover a broader array of issues regarding inclusivity, equality, protest and gender identity.

The duos and trios include Jane Dodge and Judy Anderson; Tiffany Matheson, Scottie Burgess and Robin Hextrum; Kathy Mitchell-Garton and Diane Allison; Eileen Roscina Richardson and Courtney E. Morgan; Regan Rosburg and Sarah Pickman; Louis Trujillo and James Mullane;  Eriko Tsogo, Batkhishig Batochir and Tsogo Mijid; and Liz Quan and Sabin Aell.

Taken together, the four strikingly different art installations in Dearly Disillusioned will bring one resounding message to Denver: The fight for social justice — women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental justice, indigenous rights and more — is still going strong.

“These multi-dimensional works emphasize the collective issues that confront us and the transformational ways of finding common ground,” Kaye concludes.

Dearly Disillusioned will be at the McNichols Building from Saturday, January 18, through April 5. Find more information on the McNichols Building website.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.