Samantha Johnston of the Colorado Photographic Arts Center says she went through waves of thinking “Now it’s better” and “Now it’s not better” in her first pandemic-ridden year of organizing Denver’s biennial Month of Photography festival in March. But working with Mark Sink — whose name is synonymous with MOP as founder of the sprawling rollout of photography shows across the Front Range — gave her confidence.
“I wanted it to be what Mark and I talked about for a year — that CPAC is the right home for Month of Photography, where we could really build on Mark’s legacy and the grassroots work he did,” she says. Between CPAC’s strength in fundraising and not having to rely entirely on volunteers to get the work done, things are coming together beautifully.
“It was a few months ago that we had a goal of having shows in thirty places,” Johnston notes. “Now we have 58 spaces participating. It really shows the resiliency of the community, even in a time when everyone’s struggling.”
In 2021, she adds, MOP is fighting back against the pandemic by including more alternative and outdoor spaces— online, and on billboards and building walls — on its roster.
We caught up with Johnston to talk about required viewing for MOP 2021. Here’s a taste of what she recommends:
The Big Picture
On buildings in Denver, Boulder and sister cities around the world
Ongoing through 2023
Sink is still a part of MOP with his pet project The Big Picture, a massive image exchange and wheat-pasting event that allows people in Denver and beyond to see fresh, blown-up prints of local photography pasted on buildings by an army of volunteers. The prints remain on the walls, deteriorating slowly in the open air as a dust-to-dust metaphor, until Big Picture volunteers — loaded down with buckets of paste, sponges, push brooms, mop heads and rolled prints — come around to put up new ones. Wanna help? Contact The Big Picture here.
Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness
Center for Visual Art, 965 Santa Fe Drive
Through March 20
An early breakthrough for MOP, the CVA’s spectacular show by South African visual activist and photographer Zanele Muholi opened early in January, which wasn’t easy to pull off, given the worldwide pandemic and changing protocols for visiting galleries right here in Denver. But the show — a series of more than eighty startling self-portraits addressing Black body politics — is a major coup for MOP and Denver viewers. Captured in stark black and white and festooned in costumes created from everyday and found materials, Muholi’s large-format photo portraits stare directly at the viewer. Needless to say, the effect is beyond powerful.
Kia Neill, Amorphic Mountain
Old Masonic Hall, 136 South Main Street, Breckenridge
Through March 28
As part of an arts district art instructors’ exhibition at Breckenridge’s Old Masonic Hall, Kia Neill adds another outdoor twist to MOP’s lineup with Amorphic Mountain, a building projection that exemplifies Neill’s mixed-media practice by overlaying abstract video footage into a moving, living collage of imagery. Think of it as a prelude to the much larger installation she is creating for Meow Wolf Denver.
Dateline Gallery, 3004 Larimer Street
Through March 13
1919-1920 at Dateline is big on buzz, and it’s easy to see why: The ongoing project of Denver Instagrammer Shadow, who seeks out members of the fringe nightlife, from drag queens to punks, to photograph in the after-dark club scenes of Denver, Austin and Los Angeles, offers an intimate view of the underworld she haunts. Check Shadow’s Instagram page @shadows.gather for a closer look.
Colorado Photographic Arts Center, 1070 Bannock Street
Through April 17
Opening Reception: Saturday, March 6, 5 to 8:30 p.m. (tentative); RSVP online in advance for timed-entry slot
Artist Talk: Wednesday, March 10, 6 to 7 p.m., via Zoom; register online in advance for link
CPAC zeroes in on three powerful photographic studies of Black identity in Reflecting Voices, the center’s main addition to MOP. Tucson-based Alanna Airitam, who grew up in Queens, New York, takes a leap in her series of contemporary Black subjects in Dutch Renaissance attire, historically linking the rise of two seemingly un-similar peaceful periods following times of war — the Dutch Golden Age and the Harlem Renaissance. Narkita Gold, on the other hand, showcases members of Denver’s Black community in upbeat portraits, while Rashod Taylor’s intimate series captures family life in his own home, lending a sweet and positive dimensionality to everyday Black life in America.
Union Hall, 1750 Wewatta Street, Suite 144
February 25 through March 20
As part of its Rough Gems series showcasing new curators, Union Hall gives the team of Mary Grace Bernard and Genevieve Waller an opportunity to gather together photographic artists Román Anaya, Paula Gillen, Stacy J. Platt, Gabby Recny, Emily Van Loan and Lauren Winges for a deep dive into racial and gender politics. Sticking to the title’s fairy-tale cue — Mirror, Mirror — the show upends the notion that being the “fairest of them all” is the ultimate compliment.
SaveArtSpace: In a Time of Change
Billboards around Denver
March 1 through March 31
In partnership with SaveArtSpace, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit known for placing socially conscious art on billboards in cities across the U.S., curators Samantha Johnston and Benjamin Rasmussen have selected ten artists whose work will be installed on billboards around Denver beginning March 1, remaining on view through the rest of the month. Find a map of billboard locations on the SaveArtSpace website.
Month of Photography Online Lectures
Albert Chong: Wednesday, March 3, 6 to 7 p.m.
Andrea Jenkins Wallace: Wednesday, March 17, 6 to 7 p.m.
Tya Alisa Anthony: Wednesday, March 24, 6 to 7 p.m.
$5 to $20 (members free)
A look into the depth and range of photographic art, the Denver Art Museum’s series of three online Month of Photography lectures begins on March 3 with University of Colorado Boulder art professor Albert Chong, who delves into his own mixed heritage — through his family history while growing up in Jamaica, as well as the history of the African and Asian diasporas — in photography, installation and sculpture. On March 17, Andrea Jenkins Wallace from Anderson Ranch in Snowmass will speak about her ongoing photographic diary focusing on her son and other long-form series, while the lectures conclude on March 24 with Denver photographer Tya Alisa Anthony, who works in photography, collage and sculpture to illuminate themes of social justice and real and imagined Black identity.
Three Acts: A Survey of Shame, Emotion, and Oblivion
RedLine Contemporary Art Center, 2350 Arapahoe Street
March 6 through April 24
Virtual Opening Reception: Saturday, March 6, 6 to 9 p.m.
Open by timed-entry appointment only; register online in advance
Founder Sink has traditionally curated major exhibitions with an international flair at RedLine for the biennial fest. In 2021 he carries on with Three Acts, a sprawling synthesis of three collaborations following different themes, with Todd Edward Herman, founder of east window exhibit space in Boulder handling shame; Alto Gallery and the Denver Collage Club covering emotion through the pandemic-driven cancel culture; and Andrea Tejeda and Susana Moyaho of the Unperson Project in Mexico City, who archive images of oblivion.
Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue
March 12 through May 8
Walker Fine Art can always be counted on to run smartly with a theme. Translucent Reality is a showcase for gallery artists Katie Kalkstein, Bonny Lhotka and Melanie Walker, an adventurous trio of photographers interested in melding alternative and traditional methods to create otherworldly imagery from the real and natural worlds. The MOP contingent is half of the exhibition, which also presents painters working in a similar visual realm.
Find a complete Month of Photography schedule and more information at denvermop.org.
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