A new exhibit highlights citizenship today and how having a “home place” impacts individuals

As we jump into the 20s, the Kennedy Heights Arts Center (KHAC) poses the question: What is it to be an American? Our country stands on a precipice with immigration challenges front and center. And while the KHAC is a location for the arts, it is much more.

“Now is a pivotal time to really think about all of the diversity that goes into making up this country,” says Mallory Feltz, director of exhibits and public art for KHAC. “We want to embrace diversity, foster creativity, and build community.”

Soapbox talked recently with Feltz and Jessica Oberdick, the exhibition curator, about the intent and tone of their first exhibition of the year: Revolutionary: Being American Today.

“Jessica had applied to our open annual call for artists and curators,” Feltz explains. “We said, “‘Let’s push it to the first show in 2020 for the 100th anniversary of suffrage.’ Jessica selected all of the artists.”

Oberdick is steeped in the discussion about what it means to be American and, further, how place impacts individuals. She raises the question: “How much of our ‘home place’ stays with us as we migrate?”

“I wanted to give people an opportunity to see that citizenship does not really mean the same for everybody,” she says.

One of the artists is from Peru, and even through he is a resident, during the ICE raids he did not want to go into Washington, D.C., because of what that had happened to other residents. He brings a unique culture and viewpoint, ” Oberdick says.

“We are not trying to tell people how to think and who to vote for, but it is helpful for them to see what citizenship means, to think about this on a deeper level,” explains Feltz.

Oberdick adds, “I do feel that the work is political because politics comes into play regarding who you are and what you believe in. We want to make sure that everyone has a voice and that those voices are heard and the stories are being told.”

Revolutionary; Being American Today includes eight regional artists.

Anissa Lewis grew up in Covington and moved back after some time away. She focuses on Pleasant Street in Covington and the idea of going back home, like how childhood memories coincide with the way things are now.

“A lot of people can relate to her experiences and coming back to their neighborhoods that are evolving,” says Feltz. “It speaks to gentrification and how [people] cannot afford to live in areas that they have lived in for years.”

Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong

Stephanie is one the younger artists. She takes self-portraits and pairs them with still lifes. These have objects from her personal culture. Much is about identity and how people see her — her roots and her ancestry.

Brianna Harlan

This a series of five posters that explore identity. One side shows portraits of individuals and the stereotypes associated with them. The other side is the way people see themselves. Most are of marginalized groups.

Melissa Vandenberg

Much of her work addresses toxic masculinity. She uses with flags and old quilts to explore the idea of patriotism, what it means to be “for your country,” and how it can manipulate identity.

Renzo Velez

He creates ephemeral and dreamlike landscapes in his photography that reflect the relationships that he has made in his own journey from Peru to West Virginia.

The exhibition, Revolutionary: Being American Today is at Kennedy Heights Arts Center, located at 6546 Montgomery Road, and runs through March 7.

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Read more articles by Jennifer Mooney.

Jennifer Mooney is a reformed corporate communications senior executive. She has also worked in the advertising industry and founded The Mooney Group, LLC, a boutique public relations practice. She is an avid adventurer and traveler, which includes climbing/hiking, open water swimming, and downhill skiing. She is a downtown resident and is married to Donald Mooney. She has two grown daughters.